Why Mr. Banks Needed Saving

*This post contains minor spoilers about the film, Saving Mr. Banks, but I question if they count as spoilers since the historical events in the film are well-documented in many Walt Disney biographies or Disney histories.*
*and there are some spoilers about Mary Poppins, but I would like to pretend that everyone has seen that film in this day and age.*

My friend in her review of Oz Great and Powerful observed that Disney has been rewriting its origin myths lately. Indeed, they invested gobs into a redo of Disneyland California Adventure to theme the park to the Los Angeles of Walt’s arrival. When I initially saw the trailers for Saving Mr. Banks, I saw her observation in action to a new level. Here is the first bio-pic of Walt Disney, highlighting a very specific time and turning point in Disney History–the production meetings with P.L. Travers to secure the rights to Mary Poppins.

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Mary Poppins is one of my favorite Disney films. Heck, it may possibly be one of my favorite films of All Time. I found solace in Mary’s guidance when my mother was first hospitalized for her COPD. I still to this day think of the Denver capitol building when I hear “Feed the Birds.” Whenever I feel a little blue, Mary Poppins is one of my cheer-up films. I have such intimacy with the film that I refuse to see it on stage…So I can understand why Mrs. Travers would hesitate to allow Disney to make the film.

Here’s the trailer:

I have always been aware that Mary Poppins arrives at the Banks’ to help put a family back together, which also involves helping Mr. Banks appreciate his family, not just his well-ordered life. Mrs. Banks is a secret suffragette, dividing her time between her husband, children, and her cause. Sometimes she can get overwhelmed, as when she comes home from the meeting and doesn’t initially hear Katie Nanna’s resignation, but she quickly comes around. The children just want to be loved.

There are two distinct storylines, beautifully interwoven in Saving Mr. Banks: Travers’ memories of her childhood at a particularly difficult time and her visit to Disney to negotiate how the film will be made. The underlying theme of the film appears to address the classic Freudian Daddy Issue. The film portrays Travers Goff, Mrs. Travers’ father, as kind and loving, but drunk and falling apart. The young Travers loves her father completely, even defying her mother to get him booze. We see Mrs. Travers (played by Emma Thompson) in the middle of the film meltdown during a production meeting because she feels they are making Mr. Banks into this cruel father who doesn’t even mend the kite (inspiring the “Let’s Go Fly A Kite” sequence, borrowed also from the Sherman Brothers’ relationship with their father). Walt (Tom Hanks) convinces her to give him the rights when he flies to London and explains his own father relationship and that Mary Poppins is actually about saving Mr. Banks.

Who is Mr. Banks but that hyperrational piece of all of us who just needs some play in his life? Regardless of the claim that Walt wanted the rights because of a promise to his daughters, the movie of Mary Poppins reminds us to just stop and play, or fly a kite or just love to laugh. Much of Disney reflects the need for play, ever more so following the opening of Disneyland. Play is the spoonful of medicine, and with the total themed experience of the park, we’re allowed to shut out the outside world and be in the land of Dream. That we can do it consciously and physically is what makes it so potent, provided we are willing to release ourselves to it, captured beautifully in Travers’ (Emma Thompson) hesitation to go to the park, much less ride the carousel.

The business about the origin story? Mary Poppins ushered in a new era for the Disney studio, allowing it to grow and expand in a way it hadn’t done since the success of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. It gave the studio the money to continue developing films and to be able to devote itself to the World’s Fair attractions, expanding Disneyland, and dreaming about the Florida Project. In other words, Mary Poppins made possible the only Disney I and many others know–the Legacy that was able to survive Walt’s death.

Sure, there were some liberties taken in this film (Saving Mr. Banks), some of which may even include the storyline of Travers’ childhood (I know nothing about her). But the film does stay true to the spirit of Poppins and to the spirit of Disney. Travers (Emma Thompson) remarks to Walt, “You mean, Disney didn’t make man in his own image?” Well, no, but those of us who willingly go for the Disney dream share the same attributes: we love to laugh, we happily will fly a kite, and we know how to invest our tuppance.

Downton Abbey Took a Violent Turn and I’m Not Happy About It

***This post is inspired by a recent broadcast of Downton Abbey in the US, and contains spoilers.***

When it comes to violence in the media, I have a few criteria I like to follow:
(As a note: I’m not a big fan of violence. I don’t condone it. I would love a world without violence, and maybe someday such a world will exist.)
1. Is it gratuitous? My gratuity line is significantly lower than most of Hollywood–thanks to my Walt Disney-colored glasses and parenthood–but I can appreciate that some violence is supposed to be there. For instance, you can’t have Romeo and Juliet without the death of Tybalt, and The Shining or Titanic wouldn’t have made such an impact without characters freezing to death. But did Johnny Depp really need his eyes ripped out in Once Upon a Time in Mexico or did Doc really need to chop off his fingers in Escape from Alcatraz?
2. The obvious intent behind the film. I allow Quentin Tarantino, Stanley Kubrick, Alfred Hitchcock to get away with their violence because they are either presenting dark satire or handle the violence artfully. A movie like Caligula haunts me with its gratuitous sexual violence (it is an art porn, as it were), as do many horror movies. It may be sacrilegious, but I even find the two major acts of violence done to Luke Skywalker in Empire Strikes Back unnecessary. There isn’t significant character transformation by his experiences.
3. Who is the violence against? Who doesn’t cheer when the Evil Queen falls to her death?
(I don’t buy into the argument that violence in media causes violence in real life. Violent people are violent in their nature. Violence in media is a response to something in the culture. Think there is too much violence? Then, please, rethink what media you consume. Through embargo can we get the moguls to give us new themes. But if 100 years of Hollywood is any indicator, we like the catharsis of violence. Victorian repression doesn’t work either. Oh well.)

This is all getting me to Downton Abbey‘s recent episode, Season Four Episode 2. I binge-watched the entire show, since it airs the hour before Sherlock, which returns this weekend with Season 3. It is well-written, such that I imagine that fans cried at the same points, laughed at the same scenes, held their breath at the same time. The characters are fairly black and white. By the end of the first episode in which they appear, we know who to love, who to hate, and who to pity.

Come to think of it, Aristotle would be pleased with this show, if he were writing The Poetics today.

So Anna’s brutal rape is a matter of controversy. Not only is she one of the most loved and selfless characters, but how it was presented recalls the old cinematic trick of careful montage editing. While an opera singer performs for the entire house (upstairs and downstairs), her screams echo through an empty hallway. The performance is full of light, while the hallway is dark. I’m not remembering which silent film dealt with a rape in much the same fashion. This type of distancing effect tugs at our heartstrings: we are connected to the show (if you’re a faithful watcher), but this scene confuses us. Anger for Anna or joy at operatic beauty?

A commentary I read pointed out that the scandal of her situation could ruin her career as a Lady’s Maid and mark her publicly forever. Such is British society. Julian Fellows did her a favor of writing her attacker from her class, even if she can never have justice. Another commentary, or maybe the same one, suggests that how this is handled in coming episodes will make or break the season. And Fellows himself suggests that it had to be Anna.

Even knowing writer’s intent and show purpose, I’m not in favor of this one. If Fellows needed to rape Anna, did we really have to see it? After all, we were spared Matthew’s war and car accidents, Thomas’s coward shot (how on earth did he get away with that?!), Cora’s fall, and do on. So why this?

Yet another commentary suggests that this event is designed to speak to the fate of Downton Abbey in a time when the family itself is losing its grip. Downton Abbey is meant to represent a microcosm. Through the disguise of a period piece, I suspect the primary commentary is about the tension between nostalgia and the ever-changing face of the planet. Through a piece at the time when Britain stopped being an empire and the class divide became less rigid, we can read a commentary about the connectivity of the world and how easy we can go from place to place through the Internet. How much easier it is to be a self-made person with the right resources, or not.

Perhaps Anna represents Britain, or the West, or the Earth. Perhaps the rape of her is the rape of our planet of her resources. I suppose I’ll know more on Sunday.

*Please no spoilers about what happens next if you already know.*