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