29 03 2014

I finally saw the Movie, “Saving Mr. Banks” tonight. It is a riveting film about the back story of how the great Walt Disney tried to win over the heart of the author P.L. Travers so that she would consent to give up her beloved Mary Poppins so that the classic musical would be made. Travers is cantankerous, pompous and to say difficult to work with would be putting it mildly. Walt Disney is well, Walt Disney. A man who did believe that a day in the magic kingdom could cure whatever ails you. Pamela Travers who demands that everyone call her Mrs. Travers proceeds to drive Mr. Disney who insists that everyone call him Walt nuts, fighting him and his outstandingly talented creative team that includes the legendary songwriting Sherman Brothers on almost every issue. She doesn’t want Mary Poppins- never refer to her as just Mary- portrayed as a silly cartoon. She loathes the casting of Dick Van Dyke as opposed to a “serious” actor like Sir Laurence Olivier to play Bert. She is convinced that Mary Poppins does not sing and so the idea of the movie as a musical abhors her. And in her silliest request, she bans the color red from the movie just because she can.

But when you wish upon a star your dreams do come true! And we all know that Mary Poppins went on to be made and it became the greatest live action success of Walt Disney’s career, winning five Oscars, including Best Actress for Julie Andrews and Best Song for “Chim Chim Cher-ee” and Best Score for such songs that became part of the soundtrack our lives like “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” and “Just a Spoon Full of Sugar.”

Personally, I cried my eyes out when the song “Feed The Birds” was played. An actual favorite of Walt Disney himself, he many time would leave his office and come and look for the Sherman Brothers after a hard day and just say to the boys, “Play It”- and that was the song that would soothe Walt’s soul. For me, the haunting melody brings back the grandest memories of my Nana, Frances Tedesco. Mary Poppins was the last Movie that I ever saw with my little Italian Grandmother. She would pass away from breast cancer in 1965. But for one glorious Saturday in 1964, back in the day when you could actually stay and see a movie more than once and see it portrayed on one giant screen- Nana and I stayed and sang and laughed and I have only ever felt that safe and loved by one other person on this planet. And when I see in the film that little old woman sitting on the bench, feeding the pigeons- something Nana and I did on the Green in Morristown- well it removes the dam and Niagara Falls burst from my tear ducts and my heart yearns to someday see Nana again!

Relationships! It is all about relationships. Walt Disney knew that. He knew he could not bully Mrs. Travers with brute business and force her into doing something with characters that she considered family. Even Disney himself related to that sentiment because he felt that way about his mouse named Mickey! And the film educates us through flashbacks that Mrs. Travers did not live the life of ease growing up. There was lots of disappointment through her years. While she adored her father, there was still much heartache and loss and intense and internal pain. But Walt Disney does eventually win Helen Goff over. You see Helen Goff was the name that Travers was really born with but she took on her Dad’s first name as her last- as a tribute to him. Walt understood there was an inside reason for this woman’s irrational outside rants. And by being vulnerable and sharing his own brokenness and revealing confessions of his own personal childhood hardships- Walt becomes more than just an icon but a person Mrs. Travers concedes Mary Poppins to.

“Saving Mr. Banks” is focused on just that- saving Mr. Banks! Travers Robert Goff, on whom the character of Mr. Banks in the Mary Poppins books was based, was in real life a loving, even whimsical man, although his alcoholism and irresponsibility doomed him and eventually got the best of him. Travers is appalled when in the original script and scope of the movie- the Disney’s version of Mr. Banks is just plain ugly and cruel. Yes, the real Mary Poppins was based on Travers’ stern and unloving aunt who cared for the family during its darkest hours. This Aunt was there not for the children- but to try to literally save Mr. Banks physically. The Aunt failed and Travers became a child who ultimately grew up to become an adult who would forever blame herself for not having been able to save her father from himself. The last thing she would want to see portrayed on the giant screen was her father as eternally lost and unredeemed. The light bulb went on and Disney and the Sherman Brothers got it and the ending of the film was changed! Mr. George Banks and all he represented did end up being freed from the prison that the bank and the business alone had become. The classic song, “Let’s Go Fly A Kite” was the new ending and it taught us all that even if in life we don’t ways experience happy endings- we can always restore order with love and laughter and imagination. Through story and relationship, we instill hope again and again and again. To this day when life gets so overwhelming, I’ll just shout out for all to hear, “Let’s go Fly A Kite!”

We all need to be saved from ourselves. We all need to be rescued from the pain and the hurts and the shots taken at us all along the way. Life can be so unfair and there are those who it seems that their only goal is to try to wipe any hint of a smile off our faces forever! But what would life be if it was only about good banking and proper etiquette! Jesus came when the winds in the east were about to destroy my soul and the mist was coming in with the hope to blind me from ever seeing a sunrise again. Sin and storms were brewing in my soul and Jesus didn’t do what he did the way that he did it, I would be lost forever. I would live a life with no color and no music and no laughter! That just couldn’t be!

Here are the words that the Poppa of P.L. Travers shared with her when she was just a little girl. He said, “Don’t you ever stop dreaming. You can be anyone you want to be.” Funny, but I believe those are the very words Walt Disney used to remind the adult edition of Mrs. P.L. Travers of the very same truth! Now let’s go fly a kite!



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