Recently, I had the opportunity to see the movie, Saving Mr. Banks. From the moment I sat down, I was hooked. The movie is not only well acted, but it struck a personal note with me. Warning: if you haven’t seen the movie, you may not want to read this blog until then so as to avoid any possible spoilers.
If you’re not familiar with the plot, Saving Mr. Banks tells the story of Walt Disney’s acquisition of the film rights of Mary Poppins a book by author P.L. Travers. To say Disney and Travers butted heads would be putting it mildly, if we’re to believe the movie’s version of events.
From the beginning of the film, its evident Disney is going to have his hands full with this undertaking when Travers and her agent argue at length about whether or not she should proceed. In the end, she agrees to meet with Disney. At this first meeting, we’re given more of an understanding of Travers’ reluctance to let go when she tells Disney, with a note of desperation, that Mary Poppins is family to her. Of course, we all know Travers eventually released the rights or we wouldn’t have Mary Poppins.
In Saving Mr. Banks, P.L. Travers is portrayed as inflexible and unreasonable and downright hostile in contrast to the infinite patience of Walt Disney who’s determined to secure the rights to her story. Throughout the film, Travers makes demands nothing short of outrageous. Not only does she insist on a line by line review of the script, which she is to be granted final approval of, but she doesn’t approve of the name given to the mother of the Banks children. At one point, she even vetoes the use of the color red in the film.
As the film unfolds, we’re given an insight into Travers and why the story is so important to her. This insight really drives home that first meeting with Disney in which she told him Mary Poppins was family. While I’m sure the movie did take some liberties with the storytelling, as most movies do, I’ve read a number of articles that confirm Travers was in fact reluctant to let go the rights to her story.
As much as I love most things Disney, and despite how much I enjoyed the movie, as an author, I found myself identifying with P.L. Travers. If you’re not a writer, you don’t really understand the emotional investment writers makes in their stories and their characters in particular. Our characters are like our children and letting go of our children, even when placing them in the hands of someone as trusted as Walt Disney, is never easy. When someone suggests we change our story, it’s as if they’re saying our children aren’t good enough, which is nothing short of insulting. That said, some of us are better at taking criticism than others, but any writer that tells you they don’t take some sort of exception to having their stories and characters is a liar.
So, I loved Saving Mr. Banks. Since I feel an equal amount of affection for Mary Poppins, I'm glad Travers was able to let go and release the rights, but I'll tell you one thing that I'd tell P.L. Travers if I'd ever gotten the opportunity. I'm on your side, Mrs. Travers!