Saving Mr. Banks opens with a dose of nostalgia. A man's voice narrates, "Wind's in the East, mist comin' in. Like something is brewing, about to begin," to a musical score by Thomas Newman, as the scene pans from the clear open sky to a wealthy, gazebo'ed garden, with a little girl in a cream dress sitting upon a manicured green lawn as if she were about to lay an egg, arms wrapped about her knees, face upward toward the sunshine. She is surrounded by a sort of construction of flowers, and sticks, within her own world, as only a little girl can be.
Then the scene flips to Sunday, April 2, 1961. The home office of a woman who has come to be known as P.L. Travers (played by Emma Thompson). Enters, Mr. Russell, her agent, into her abode. They argue over what the outcome of her situation should be. Her situation being that the market for her very popular Mary Poppins children's books has dried up.
Also, Mrs. Travers, as she insists on being named, has hit a writer's block and so, no more books shall be coming in for awhile. Mr. Russell and Mrs. Travers go back and forth on what her options are in terms of present and future financial floatability. It seems Mr. Russell's arguments are that her future creative prospects lie within the hands of Walt Disney (Tom Hanks), who wants to make her books into a film, and has been trying to do so for 20 years. But Mrs. Travers, is deeply attached to the characters of her own creation and would very much rather not relinquish any rights and insists upon final say in the writing of the script.
And so, it is decided Mrs. Travers shall go to Los Angeles, California. A journey reminiscent of her childhood, when her father was either severely demoted or fired from a prestigious position at an Australian bank to relocate himself and his family to a much more rural location. The family leaves their Victorian styled home and walks to the rail station as they cannot afford a carriage.
The current Mrs. Travers is picked up at the L.A. airport by a Disney sponsored driver and air conditioned car. The driver, who we learn toward the end, has the name of Ralph (Paul Giamatti), is amiable toward Mrs. Travers despite her terse and persnickety manner toward everything both Californian and Disney, not to mention toward anything Ralph says or does in general. Though, her present journey is much more luxurious than her childhood conditions, at times.
The 1961 Mrs. Travers frets over the heat and appears overdressed for California weather. She very much evokes the persona of a spinster who has lost her prime and it is everyone else's fault she has to change in order to swim with the tide; in attitude, style of life and manner. She enters her hotel room to find it filled with an enormous fruit basket and all sorts of Disney paraphernalia, including large stuffed cartoon characters, and the first thing she does is throw all the pears from the fruit basket out the window, to the surprise of onlookers as the pears plop into the pool. Mrs. Travers, then without explanation promptly shuts the window.
The scenes constantly flip back and forth between childhood and the current psychological mannerisms of Mrs. Travers in a manner reminiscent of La Vie en Rose. The heart of the matter is how two people, such as Walt Disney with his love of cartoons that are his family, and P.L. Travers, with her dislike of change and her love for her creations that are her family, can ever merge together to create a masterpiece.
Disney is stubbornly territorial over P.L. Travers' work, as he courts her creative genius for twenty years to get what he wants. He does what it takes to get it. Putting aside his own psychological problems from childhood to attend to her needs and understand a woman he finds to be a complete conundrum.
Pamela, as Walt calls her, disagrees with much of the film script and for understandable reasons. Though, her manner is lofty, perhaps because she is in the weaker position. She flat out insults Walt's love for cartoons, and cartoons are his family. He takes breaths and steps away and then continues to negotiate. He finds that the story is not really about a nanny who comes to save children, though the original book was based on P.L. Travers' experiences as a child when her aunt comes to visit and saves her and her sisters by keeping the household running after their father has died and the mother fallen into despair.
Eventually Pamela signs over the rights to allow Disney full control of the film script. But he has to fully understand her first. Pamela's childhood is an interesting one. Her father, a known drunk, humiliates the family in public, falling off stage while giving a speech for the bank. But this does not mean he does not love his daughter better than most men could ever love a child. He was an ill man. But he taught his daughter to love herself. Saving Mr. Banks brings up the interesting conundrum that simply because one's father is technically a total inebriated loser does not mean he is still not the best daddy in the whole wide world. He taught her to fight for herself in ways he could not seem to do so for his own self.
Pamela is not vicious, just the type of person who is rough around the edges until she is known better, rather than is the opposite as with most other people. Then once she does allow Disney all rights and three years later in 1964 when the film is produced, she is not invited to the Hollywood screening. Walt thought that since she does not do well with so much attention and cameras it would be best for her not to come. But she comes anyway, and cries throughout the piece, especially at the end.
By Sarah Bahl
Anna Sewell's only novel is one of eternal morality. The story of a handsome, well-bred as well as good natured horse and his journey through Victorian Era Britain.
Black Beauty, originally named Darkie, is born a dark colored colt with a white starred forehead, into a household of fair wealth, "the first place that I can well remember was a large pleasant meadow with a pond of clear water in it." His mother's name is Duchess, and she was a favorite of the master's. He called her, "Pet."
When Darkie is caught by his mother running, kicking and biting with other colts of the field, she whinnies him to her side and explains to her son, that his play mates are cart horse colts and they are not of the most mannered variety. She tells him, "I hope you will grow up gentle and good, and never learn bad ways: do your work with a good will, lift your feet up well when you trot, and never bite or kick, even in play."
At the age of four Darkie, receives his breaking in. He is in a very good place with a kind and sensible master, but still, he is disconcerted by the bit in his mouth and finds the weight of his master upon his back quite odd indeed. But he is coaxed and petted to quell the shock of the change. Darkie is also trained to become used to man's machines, such as trains, so he will not have to fear nor fret when at a station. Soon before their parting Darkie's mother gives him advice to last a lifetime:
There are a great many kinds of men; there are good, thoughtful men like our master, that any horse may be proud to serve; and there are bad, cruel men, who never ought to have a horse or a dog to call their own. Besides, there are a great many foolish men, vain, ignorant and careless, who never trouble themselves to think, these spoil more horses than all, just for want of sense; they don't mean it, but they do it for all that. I hope you will fall into good hands; but a horse never knows who may buy him, or who may drive him; it is all a chance for us; but still I say, do your best wherever it is, and keep up your good name.
Soon Darkie finds himself within the luxury of a lose box at Squire Gordon's estate. His stable mates are Merry Legs and Ginger. Merry Legs is a pert, tubby, plucky little grey dappled pony who is a fair favorite with children. Ginger is a tall chestnut beauty with a vigorous temper and a good heart.
It is here, Darkie is named Black Beauty, and he is again in a good place, with practical and compassionate owners. His one wish is for liberty. To run and roll upon meadow grass as he used to when a colt. He dislikes the steel bit, the straps and only being let out of his stall when he is needed. Though, every Sunday, the family would walk to Church and the horses would be let free for exercise in a large pleasant meadow.
"It was a great treat for us to be turned out into the home paddock or the old orchard; the grass was so cool and soft to our feet, the air so sweet, and the freedom to do as we liked was so pleasant - gallop, to lie down, and roll over on our backs, or to nibble the sweet grass. Then it was a very good time for talking, as we stood together under the shade of the large chestnut tree."
As the times in the orchard and meadow allowed the horses room for conversation, it was in this manner Black Beauty learned about Ginger's upbringing. Within Ginger's past were some reasonable caretakers, but also many abusers. Including those so very fond of the check reign, a strap that runs from the harness, directly upon the horse's neck and attaches to the back of its head. The tighter the reign, the higher the horse's head.
Check reigns were in fashion among a variety of classes, during the period, and such fashion caused much distress and suffering for the horse. Ginger rails against ill treatment and the check reign. Black Beauty's owners have never used it, so he has as of yet no personal knowledge of having his head and neck forced up. Ginger describes men as "brutes" and "blockheads" which many can be, but Merry Legs turns the sour mood around by reminding all of the good masters they have now.
But, such peace and quality of life pleasantries were not to last as the mistress of the household becomes direly ill. The estate is broken up as the master and mistress depart to a more temperate climate in desperate hopes, the change in environment will remedy the lady's declining health. The horses are given to friends. Merry Legs is never to be sold as per agreement. Black Beauty and Ginger are placed with the Earl of W- at Earlshall Park, a much wealthier estate than their former home. Here the mistress is fond of the check reign and insists upon its use despite warning regarding Ginger's temper.
One morning the mistress demands the reigns to be up far too tightly and Ginger lashes out, kicking her way out of the carriage harness. Black Beauty, now named Black Auster, is accidently kicked in the bargain and the lady misses the Duchess's garden party. All for the check reign.
Many ill treatments of the horses come from knowing ignorance such as use of the check reign or else from over exhausted systems, exemplified by low rung cab drivers who can hardly care for themselves, much less the horses. And the horses are never preferred above people.
Black Auster is sold from the Earl of W-'s estate, when his knees are broken by a drunken rider and the hair burned off as part of the medical treatment. The look of his knees causes him to fall into the middle class. He is first sold as a job horse. A client of the renting stable, takes a liking to Black Auster's quality and recommends him to a friend of his, Mr. Barry, a businessman whose doctor has recommended he take on a horse for exercise. Beauty would likely have had a well off home with Mr. Barry as the accommodations of the businessman's stables were sound including food of high quality. But his new owner had the misfortune of hiring two irresponsible grooms in a row; one who stole corn and the other time, by being lazy and not cleaning out the stall. So, in disgust and likely embarrassment, Mr. Barry sold the horse.
Beauty then finds a home in the city of London, with a good natured middle rung cab driver with a kind family. He is worked very hard, as all cab horses are, but is treated well. On passing, Beauty sees Ginger again. She is used up as a low cab horse and no longer fights for herself anymore. Her wind had been ruined by the check reign and she kept being sold lower down, until she found herself reaching for a piece of straw that had blown from Beauty's feed. She recognizes Beauty, but he cannot believe it is her at first, as she is now a tired creature, with buckling joints and glazed, empty eyes that are hoping for death. She does not kick or jump when she is mistreated anymore, as men are stronger. She was a beautiful, hard working horse, who did the best she could. They speak for a little while but then Ginger is pulled away. Shortly after, Beauty sees a dead chestnut horse in a cart. It has a long thin neck and blood runs out of its mouth. Beauty hopes it to be Ginger. He laments, "I saw a great deal of trouble among the horses in London, and much of it that might have been prevented with a little common sense."
Beauty's owner Jerry, eventually became too ill from the strain of a cab driver's life, contracting bronchitis, to run a cab on his own anymore. Beauty is now about 13 years of age. He is still a fine looking horse but for the knees, still he is not who he used to be. At yet another horse market, Beauty comes upon the uncommon good fortune of being bought by a fair man who fixed up Beauty with kindness and care to sell him to ladies in need of a calm, trustworthy horse. His new stable boy is Joe Green, who used to work at Squire Gordan's. Beauty is never to be sold, and he says, "My troubles are all over, and I am at home; and often before I am quite awake, I fancy I am still in the orchard at Birtwick, standing with my old friends under the apple trees."
By Sarah Bahl