When I first heard about Saving Mr. Banks, I thought, “Oh, great, another brainless Hollywood idea. Somebody in the break room must have said, ‘I’ve got it. Let’s make a documentary about Walt Disney.’ Wheee.”
I really, truly, one hundred percent respect and love Walt Disney. I grew up on almost all the original Disney films – Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Cinderella, Winnie the Pooh, Sleeping Beauty, Robin Hood, 101 Dalmatians, Peter Pan, Mary Poppins, and so on. So the idea of seeing Hollywood maiming this great man’s character did not appeal to me in the slightest.
Well, sometime back, a couple of my friends saw part of Saving Mr. Banks. At one point, Tom Hanks (who portrays Walt Disney in the film), said something that made both my friends respond with something on the order of, “Mithril has to see this!” They said it at once, interrupting the film.
They almost never do that.
I agreed to see the film, keeping my reservations – and earlier contempt for the movie – to myself. I sat down with my friends to watch it. About midway through the film, I started to sniffle. Then, a few minutes later, I broke down and cried.
I never, ever, thought I would do that during this movie, and I cannot remember the last time I cried while watching a film. I did not even cry during The Battle of the Five Armies, for heaven’s sake! But when this film showed one of the songwriters performing “Tuppence a Bag,” I lost it. The water works kept coming, on and off, after that. By the end of the movie, it was a miracle the room was not flooded. It took me another hour to calm down, and even then I was still sniffling.
Saving Mr. Banks tells the story of how Walt Disney worked very hard to get the movie rights to P. L. Travers book Mary Poppins, so that he could make it into a film. He had promised his daughters that he would make the film, and Saving Mr. Banks tells us how he kept that promise.
As the movie explains, for twenty years Disney kept asking the author of Mary Poppins, P. L. Travers, to give him the rights to turn her first book into a movie. But Mrs. Travers keeps refusing, until she runs into money trouble. Then her agent insists that she go see Mr. Disney, who has agreed to let her have creative input on the screenplay. Anything she does not like will be taken out of the script. She has final say. She can refuse to hand over the rights if she does not like the way Disney and his team are handling the movie.
Mrs. Travers finally caves in to her agent’s pleading and flies to California. The rest of the movie shows us just where the idea for Mary Poppins came from, why the film was almost never made and why Mrs. Travers loved Mary Poppins as much – if not more – than any of her fans.
I will not go into the details of that story here. One, I do not want to spoil the movie for you, readers. Two, I might start crying again – and then I will not be able to type to finish this post!
But what, you may ask, was the thing Walt Disney said that made my friends immediately agree that I should watch the movie? It is very near the end (and I cried while I watched it), so I will try not to spoil too much. But Mr. Disney was so determined to make Mary Poppins a film that, when Mrs. Travers abruptly returned to England in a fury, without signing over the rights and without an explanation, he immediately followed her there.
Before he did, though, he learned that her name was not really P. L. Travers. That was her pen name; her real name was Helen Goff. Travers was her father’s first name, and she loved him so much that she took his name as her pseudonym, insisting people call her “Mrs. Travers” in order to hear her father’s name over and over again.
Back to what Walt Disney told her near the end of the film. I do not know if it is really what he said to her in that interview, but from what I know of Walt Disney (admittedly, I do not know him by anything except reputation), it sounds like something he might have said. He told her (as best I can recall through the waterworks), when he was convincing her that he would never do anything to Mary Poppins to ruin it that, “See, that’s what we storytellers do. We bring order to the world. We give people hope, over and over again.”
Excuse me – but I need to stop for a tissue.
*Ahem.* He was right. Storytellers do just that.
The world is a hard, nasty, chaotic mess. No one needs to look any further than the newspaper or the TV news channels to know that. The reports on which Hollywood stars are dating whom drown out the story of a nine year old girl shot and killed while doing her homework in her Chicago home. The videos of Planned Parenthood selling aborted children’s body parts are ignored in favor of the news that a famous lion was killed by a foolish dentist. Two hundred other lions were killed as well by different people in the same country, but even they do not get the spotlight.
What kind of a world is this? It is a world filled with horror and darkness, and that affects us all. It affects some more than others. Babies who could grow up to change the world are killed so that those who kill them can make a profit off their bodies the same way arms or drug dealers make money off of weapons and drugs. A nine year old girl working on her school assignment is killed before she can grow up and decide how she wants to change the world.
The rest of us watch it all happen, either unwilling or unable to do much of anything to turn back the darkness. For those of us who do anything, or at least try to do something, we relate well to what Cap is reported to say in the Civil War trailer, “Saving everyone we can doesn’t mean that we can save everyone.”
We are not God. But many of us pretend to be, and it only furthers the darkness. In a world like this, where is the hope? Where is the order? Where is the sense, the sanity?
You all know how big a fan I am of Marvel Comics. I am a big fan of a lot of stories. I listed some of them, in movie form, at the beginning of this post. I pay attention to the news about upcoming Marvel films. I blog about stories. I daydream about stories.
There are a lot of people like me. Some attend the Comic Conventions and other such events around the globe. They learn to speak Klingon; they dress up as their favorite characters; they pay huge amounts of money for an action figure or a film prop, and they are as ecstatic over a new story in their favorite genre as they are when they learn someone in the family is going to have a baby or is getting married.
Others do not show their love of stories by dressing up, learning Klingon, or spending gobs of money on a new action figure. But they still love the stories. They still love the characters. They still catch the latest movie, book, television episode, etcetera. Why? None of this is real. As Mrs. Travers says in Saving Mr. Banks, “Mary Poppins is not real.”
“She’s real to me,” says Disney. “She’s real to my daughters. She’s real to all your readers. She’s there when we need her.”
People who go to Comic Conventions are mocked a lot. I have never been to a Comic Convention, but I have heard the snide things people say when they speak about those who go to these events. “Yeah, Jake went to Comic Con this year. He dressed up like Superman. Can you believe it? He’s forty and he’s still dressing up. Not to mention getting excited over a stupid comic book character. Ha ha ha!”
And that is Walt Disney’s point in this scene. Mary Poppins is not a stupid character. Superman is not a stupid character. Captain America, Hawkeye, Iron Man, the Avengers, the Fellowship of the Ring, Luke Skywalker – none of them is a “stupid character.”
Yes, these characters are not real people. I will never walk down the street and accidentally meet the Steve Rogers I find in Marvel’s comic books. I will never meet Luke Skywalker, Optimus Prime, Col. Jack O’Neill, Aragorn, or any of my other favorite characters in the flesh.
But that does not make the characters any less real. That does not mean they are not there, within me, ready to be there for me when I need them most.
As an example, remember the end of The Two Towers? Frodo has just tried to kill Sam, but he has recalled himself in time and pulled back. He has done what Gollum decided not to do when his friend Deagol discovered the Ring. “What are we doing here, Sam?” Frodo asks, horrified and sick with the knowledge of what he nearly did.
Sam says, “I don’t know. By rights, we shouldn’t even be here. It’s all mixed up!”
Then, more quietly, Sam adds, almost to himself, “It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? Folks in those stories, they had a lot of chances to turn back only they didn’t. They kept fighting, because they were holding onto something. And that’s what we’ve got to do, too.”
“What are we holding on to, Sam?” Frodo asks, still scared. Still lost. Still hurt.
Sam turns to him, helps him to his feet. “That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo,” he answers, “And it’s worth fighting for!”
I do not know Klingon, and getting me to dress up is harder than putting socks on a crow. I used to think I was crazy for all the attention I paid to stories, those snide comments about Comic Convention attendees ringing in my ears. What makes me any different than them, I would wonder. I do not dress up or speak Klingon, but I am still practically a walking encyclopedia when it comes to certain stories. I still care more about a good story and the characters in it and get angry at writers who mistreat those characters than I care about having lunch, going for a walk, going shopping, or other such things. What if I’m nuts?
Doubtless, readers, some of you probably think I am nuts. But I do not think that. Not anymore.
Because, in Saving Mr. Banks, in that one scene where he tells Mrs. Travers that “Storytellers bring order to the world and give people hope, time and time again,” I learned what I really am. I may not be a great storyteller, and I do not know about giving people hope time after time. But I know I want to be and do both of those things, and that I am willing to fight to be a storyteller and to give hope to people, over and over again, during this “Long Defeat.” And that I am willing to fight any and all aggressors who deny the value of stories and their characters.
I am a blogger, a storyteller. I am naïve. I have limits. I cannot be everywhere at once, read minds, change shape, or protect everyone. I cannot love everyone in the world, though I have a special place in my heart for all of you, readers.
But I can write. I can appreciate a good story. Because as Samwise the Brave said, “There is some good in this world. And it’s worth fighting for!”
So that is what I am going to do, as best I can, and I am heartily thankful to those friends who sat me down to watch Saving Mr. Banks. I am grateful to those who made it, to those who made Mary Poppins, the book and the movie. And most of all, to the One who made me and all the good things and people in this world, I am very, very grateful, beyond words.
Catch you later, readers.
The Mithril Guardian