Saving Helen Goff

 

Saving Mr. Banks represents an interesting frame of Mary Poppins’ P.L. Travers, played by the wonderful but maybe overly gorgeous Emma Thompson. Stodgy and difficult to deal with, the Disney company tries to work with “Mrs. Travers” to make her beloved book into the still-popular musical movie with Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke. However, the script writer, score writers (the amazing Sherman brothers), and even the “big cheese” himself, Mr. Walt Disney (convincingly played by Tom Hanks), constantly butt heads with the author as they try to get the rights for the book from Travers. As the story unfolds, Mrs. Travers’ past is revealed, and her reasons for being obstinate about the book’s portrayal come to light in a sweet yet heartbreaking reverie. Colin Farrell’s performance of Travers Goff as the author’s loving but troubled father brings the story together to explain Mrs. Travers’ connection to her novel, and Paul Giamatti as Mrs. Travers’ ever-caring driver could soften even the hardest heart. Saving Mr. Banks brings an interesting historical Disney story to light while weaving together the story of why Helen Goff became Mrs. Travers.

The movie is a beautiful portrayal of Walt and his kingdom of a company. However, I suspect the best way to describe the film is as historical fiction. Though I do not claim to know the whole history of Mr. Disney versus Mrs. Travers, it has been said that P.L. Travers always distanced herself from the Mary Poppins film. Of course, Saving Mr. Banks concludes with the typical Disney happy ending, and there is not much evidence to show that Mrs. Travers was upset very much about the film portrayal of her novel. Though tension is more than present in the film, the animosity between Travers and Disney is most likely downplayed for a good story, and Walt appears as a (mostly) patient (though exasperated) and persistent creator who is simply trying to put his favorite book on film. But, as the movie concludes, it is evident that there is something about the true story that must be missing from this telling.

As a third party observer of this history and Mary Poppins in general, I ask: Is there anything wrong with either version, book versus film? Certainly there is the legal issue of copyright, especially when making a book into a film. However, there is art in both versions. Though very different representations of the same basic subject, Mary Poppins is now an icon in both literature and cinema. And both versions keep true to the heart of the story: a woman comes to save a family from falling apart through her strangely caring but sometimes distant nature. She is not there just to take care of the children, but to help the parents see their own faults as well. Mary Poppins comes to save Mr. Banks. A family is reunited with hope, a spoonful of sugar, and a little bit of magic.

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