Saving Mr. Banks and Pamela Travers

 Saving Mr. Banks opened in theatres right before Christmas and I was among the millions who enjoyed seeing it.  I grew up in California and lived on a street called Buena Vista that dead-ended along the back fence of the Disneyland property.  We were able to see the fireworks each night from our driveway.  Maybe those early years contribute to my lifelong fascination with all things Disney.

I remember seeing the Disney movie, Mary Poppins, when I was a young girl.  I was excited to see the new movie this Christmas, but surprised to find it a much different story than I had expected.  I’ve thought about it several times since.  Movies are almost always a version of the truth, but this movie made me want to know the actual truth behind Mary Poppins and the author who imagined her.

Saving Mr. Banks is the story of P.L. Travers, the author of a series of books about Mary Poppins, and Walt Disney’s attempt to make a movie based on those books.  The film illustrates the tense relationship between Ms. Travers and those that were associated with the Disney production.  Those scenes are interspersed with flashbacks to the childhood of P.L. Travers.  She had a difficult beginning, living in Australia with her family.  The great theme of the movie is seen in its title.  Mr. Banks is the name of the father figure in Mary Poppins and it is his redemption that brings Walt Disney and P.L. Travers to find common ground.

I don’t want to give away the plot of the movie, but a key storyline was P.L. Travers’ relationship with her father, and the way that relationship impacted her as an adult.  Suffice it to say he was a creative, artistic man who struggled through his life under the influence of alcohol.  Pamela Travers is portrayed in the movie as a testy, complex woman with some of the same artistic gifts as her father.

Much of the movie script is based on the hours of reel-to-reel tape that Travers insisted be made of her discussions with Walt Disney and his team of writers and producers.  Apparently Saving Mr. Banks presents Ms. Travers in a much better light than the actual truth of those meetings.  

I have reflected on the movie, and the people characterized in the movie, because I think there is a great lesson in their stories.  Pamela Travers was not considered a “likeable” person in any of the articles that I read.  She never married.  She taught classes at two universities but was unpopular at both.  She agreed to adopt two twin boys, but then decided she only wanted to raise one of them.  Her adopted son didn’t know he had a brother until he met him in a pub one day, face to face.  Pamela Travers dabbled in a variety of eastern religions, never settling on something she could believe in.  I think it is safe to say that if the famous author was a neighbor, we would all be glad to see a moving van pull up to her house.

Yet, Pamela Travers created a story about an almost perfect woman who was beloved by all.  Mary Poppins brought the Banks family back together.  The scene and the song “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” is a key moment in the Mary Poppins movie and in Saving Mr. Banks.  Maybe Pamela Travers created a character that had the qualities she wished for in her personal life, but seemed unable to achieve.  This year’s movie suggests that Walt Disney helped her reconcile her feelings about her own father when she allowed “Mr. Banks” to skip through the house with his children and help them fly their kite.

The underlying theme of the movie is redemption and forgiveness.  Pamela Travers came to forgive her father as Disney shared his own childhood story.  Walt Disney looked past the difficult personality of the author in order to understand why she behaved as she did.  While this part of the movie might have been fictionalized, it illustrated a great truth.  Every human being has a life story that they wish other people would care about and try to understand. 

I wonder what kind of life Pamela Travers would have had if she had received her Savior, who knew her and loved her.  Maybe she would have experienced the joy and peace that she was able to write about, but not live with.   Pamela Travers had a difficult childhood, but that fact didn’t have to impact her entire life.  She could have been “born again.”

A lot of people will make New Year’s resolutions.  Maybe this verse could be ours.  It is the commandment that Jesus said was most important.  “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12).  Everyone has a life story.  Maybe this year we can show compassion to someone like Pamela Travers, and help them write a new ending to their story.  That effort won’t make this an easy year, but it will make it rewarding.

Everyone needs redemption.  Mary Poppins wasn’t real, but I’ll bet Pamela Travers wished people would have felt about her, they way they felt about the character in her stories.  The “golden rule” is still solid gold – and a great everyday resolution.

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