Saving Ms. Travers


My wife and I watched "Saving Mr. Banks" last night - a thoroughly enjoyable movie about the behind-the-scenes wrangling between Walt Disney (that is Mr. Walt Disney, the man, before he became a multinational media conglomeration) and P. L. Travers, author of the children's classic, Mary Poppins. My wife watched it from the perspective of one who had seen the Mary Poppins' Disney musical as a child, and then again as a mother raising a child of her own. I, on the other hand, am one of the few people on planet Earth who has never seen the Julie Andrews/Dick Van Dyke spectacular, which, combined with my creative writing background, allowed me to view Saving Mr. Banks from a very different perspective.

According to the movie, P.L. Travers was beyond difficult to work with. She was a self obsessed women who wouldn't allow anyone inside her own little world, not even to offer help of any kind, for fear she might be taken advantage of. Her stubbornness and zeal to force Disney and his team to shoot the movie her way and only her way was something approaching lunacy and it was only through Walt's disarming honesty and folksy charm that the rights were ever secured and movie history ever made. That's the Disney story and they're sticking to it. 

Personally, I have no reason to dispute their story. I have no vested interest one way or the other, except that it all seems just a bit too "neat" to me. A little too cozy. I have no doubt that Mr. Disney was a wonderful man, a creative genius who brought an unbelieveable amount of magic into the world. Something for which we all, myself included, will be forever indebted to him. But, he was also a man, and a businessman at that. A businessman who built an entertainment empire on the back of a cartoon mouse. That doesn't happen without a certain amount of shrewdness, which is not a bad thing. A lot of wonderful, beautifully creative things get lost in this world because those responsible for them aren't shrewd enough to make them last. But, it does tell me that perhaps Ms. Travers isn't as soley responsible for the "making of" difficulties as this movie made her out to be.

Let's also not forget that Saving Mr. Banks is, in fact, a Disney production (how could a movie about Walt Disney not be a Disney production?). As such, it is masterfully told. Anyone who wants to learn anything about storytelling need look no further than a Disney production, for very few do it any better. Saving Mr. Banks is no exception. It tells a very powerful story, laying all of the pre-production issues carefully at the feet of Ms. Travers, without actually blaming her for anything, while the ever cheerful Mr. Disney, never loses heart and not only saves the day in terms of inking the movie deal, but also in helping Ms. Travers resolve her own internal issues. Great storytelling, even if I don't actually buy it all. Again, let me reiterate that I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. Whether one accepts it as fiction or non, it's a great way to spend an evening and I heartily recommend it.

As an author, however, the movie made me think about the actual signing over of movie rights to a work of my own. Clearly this is not anything I'll need to be concerned about any time soon, since one has to actually FINISH a novel before it can become a best seller, which is usually a prerequisite for Hollywood to come a knocking. Even so, I can't help but think it's something every writer dreams of at some point. Seeing their work immortalized on the big screen. Well, that and the ginormous paycheck that comes with it. But, (according to the movie) even as Ms. Travers was nearly broke at the time, she was, in fact, ready to face poverty rather than see Disney portray her characters in a way she believed to be untrue to the way she saw them. I wonder how I would react when faced with that actual choice. Would I be willing to "sell out" characters that I have, literally, lived with for years, for the chance for fame and a large payday. The practical side says, "heck yes," take the money and run, but the reality says, "it depends on what they're going to do with my characters and their story." In the end, I'm afraid I might have to side with Ms. Travers and my characters. If the movie cannot be done correctly - true to the characters - then it shouldn't be done at all.

And with that, it's time to rent Mary Poppins and see what all the fuss is about. Perhaps I'll read the book first.