JUMP CUT
A REVIEW OF CONTEMPORARY MEDIA

60. On screen in Mary Poppins, Dick van Dyke dances with animated penguins, and the premiere audience loves it. A huge triumph for Disney, his writers and animators, but…

 

61. …sitting with Disney’s writers and in front of Disney, Travers seems to be the only one in the theater not enjoying the mixture of live action and animation, the element which she had denounced so vehemently and for which she had nearly shut down the production. She covers her mouth as if to avoid getting caught up in the enthusiastic happiness of the crowd around her, yet the point is clear: Disney is right and she’s wrong, since if most people like it, it’s good.
62. On screen, Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins says to the children, “Sometimes someone you love can’t see the nose in front of their face.” Travers’ characters have now become fully Disney’s, psychologically as well as legally, and now speak back to her through Disney. The historical Disney told Travers that he knew more about Mary Poppins than she did, and this fictional scene dramatizes that claim.[9]
63. Travers’ reaction to this line indicates that she takes it as applying directly to her, and she begins to sob. She becomes the model viewer of a classical narrative film, so absorbed in the narrative that she takes it as addressed directly to her personally, as if she were the only viewer.
64. On screen, Dick van Dyke, whom Travers had denigrated, as Bert defends Mr. Banks to his children, saying, “He really does love you.”

65. Travers, sobbing more deeply now, wipes her tears, signifying that subjectively the difference between her real father and Disney’s Mr. Banks has collapsed. Disney is saving Mr. Banks, keeping his promise not only to his own daughters but also to her, his symbolic daughter.

66. Travers’ memory image of the house where her father died is shot like others that frame outdoor spaces through windows or doors, evoking home and security juxtaposed with outside spaces. But the house is now empty, with only the curtain moving in the breeze, indicating that she is starting to say goodbye, and forgive herself.

67. In implicit continuation of the indoor shot shown above, a long shot of two female riders, silhouetted, arriving in the yard on the family’s white horse.

68. In medium shot at father’s bedside, young Helen places a full bottle in her father’s unmoving hand, further indicating that she can forgive herself for giving him the alcohol that might have helped kill him.

69. A memory image of Travers’ psychological reconciliation: young Helen and her father embrace at the bank, scene of his humiliation.

70. Onscreen in Mary Poppins, Mr. Banks walks away, alone. But the image is no longer framed by the stage curtain as in the previous onscreen images from the premiere of Mary Poppins. Now we are watching Mary Poppins, apparently unmediated by any diegetic space in Saving Mr. Banks. The two films have momentarily merged. Occurring at the emotional climax of Saving Mr. Banks, this effect both models and tries to produce what Roger Ebert called “the out-of-body experience” one has at a good narrative film, when viewers are no longer sitting at the edge of the narrative space. Rather, they are inside it, completely given over to the illusion of having their story questions asked and answered in effortless sequence, their needs for closeness to characters, omnipresence, voyeurism, and emotional justice activated and seemingly fulfilled. Here the film attempts to collapse the distance among the films Mary Poppins and Saving Mr. Banks, the imaginary subjectivity of Travers, and the very real subjectivity of viewers watching Saving Mr. Banks. That is, if Mary Poppins is the love (and sales) object of Saving Mr. Banks, then this is the point when the subject (or its human viewer) is supposed to merge with its object. Viewers may experience a desire to see Mary Poppins, and the sale is made.

71. In close-up, Travers is now crying uncontrollably, her critical distance and haughty manner now collapsed, humbled by the power of Disney’s psychologizing vision and the redemption of both her father and herself.

72. Disney, sitting behind Travers, tries to comfort her: “He [her father] is gonna be OK.”
Travers, crying: “I can’t abide cartoons.”

The historical Travers did indeed cry at the premiere, but because she hated what Disney had done to her stories, not because Disney had saved her father’s memory. Yet this scene, along with Disney’s expression a moment later (you can’t make some people happy), maintains that Travers was in denial over how deeply moved she was by his film, that her objection to animation was only a cover for her embarrassment over her tearful identification with the film.[10]

73. Onscreen but, like the image of Mr. Banks above, full screen, the cues for our complete identification with narrative and characters in both films continue at full throttle. And this happens as Saving Mr. Banks becomes, like Mary Poppins, a musical, a genre increasingly associated with Disney. Only the musical can adequately celebrate Mr. Banks’ redemption, since the musical involves a break in narrative plausibility as characters sing and dance their feelings, reflexively celebrating the musical genre itself.

Here the promise of the earlier scene in the rehearsal room, its hopeful rhythm blocked by Travers’ sudden angry departure, is fulfilled in the completed musical number. Disney’s Mr. Banks and all his family sing and dance “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” around the house, then out the door and down the street. As Disney had promised Travers, her father is saved, released in imagination from the dreadful world of the bank that had weighed so heavily and repetitively on his romantic soul in her Disneyfied memories.

74. Reprising peak father-daughter moments: Travers’ self-forgiveness is now signified by the relentlessly affirmative associations of her memories, here exemplified by the slow-motion horse ride in the golden Australian sunset, the young Helen Goff glowing with angelic light.

75. Travers is still in tears, but smiling now as Disney’s universal Mr. Banks is fully transformed back into her personal experience, modeling the viewer of classical narrative as satisfied individual consumer.

76. Travers’ point of view of her father on his deathbed. She says goodbye not to Mr. Banks from Mary Poppins, but to what Saving Mr. Banks posits as her real father. He smiles back in recognition, reprising previous shots but now with a forgiving and happy ending.
77. Final narrative closure and emotional justice, a stylistic reversal of and rhyme with the opening scene. Where the first overhead crane shot descended to find young Helen alone, here the similar shot ascends in benediction as father and daughter embrace against the Maryborough lawn. As elsewhere in classical narrative, technique and style serve narrative and character, functioning to advance the story and immerse viewers in the interiority of the characters, here by cuing comparison of beginning and ending through symmetrical camera movements.

78. Beginning of the closing credit sequence. This has been a Disney movie for grownups about the making of one of the most successful Disney movies. Lest anyone think that Disney magic or sleight of hand is at work here, Disney has lots of historical artifacts from the Disney archives on display in the credit sequence, to conclude its case for the authenticity of this mission statement and imply (falsely) that what you’ve been watching is based in such documentary evidence. Accompanying the writers’ credits here is a black and white photo of the historical Disney and Travers together, apparently at the Mary Poppins premiere, smiling for the camera.

79. More documentary evidence that the real Travers was just as mean, pretentious and outrageous as her portrayal in the film you’ve just seen. Don Da Gradi’s fictional version in Saving Mr. Banks is seen sketching, so that through several of his acerbic drawings the Disney case against Travers is supposedly anchored in historical authenticity.

What we’re seeing is the writers’ frustrations, expressed in justifiable satire, at having to absorb Travers’ justifiable frustrations at needing Disney’s money but hating the Disneyfication of her work. Travers’ biographer says that Disney went off to his ranch while Travers met with the writers, who had no power to change anything.

In effect, Disney allowed his employees to absorb her abuse while he escaped the more or less staged conflict, since he largely ignored Travers’ “consultations.”[11][open endnotes in new window] But you’ll never see that in a Disney movie, fiction or nonfiction.

80. More credits: Emma Thompson’s name over a picture of Pamela Travers, and Tom Hanks’ name over a picture of Walt Disney. Now we know what the real people looked like, we can further confuse them with the stars who play them.
81. An overhead close-up of the vintage tape recorder that both the historical and fictional Travers demanded in order to record all her consultations with Disney’s writers in 1961. The tapes and transcriptions are in the Disney archives, and transcriptions also with Travers’ papers in New South Wales, Australia. The final credit sequence shows this image while the sound-over seems to be the historical Travers’ voice, directing the writers, providing a patina of documentary authenticity, or “truthiness.” The image is also used behind the DVD/Blu-Ray menu of Saving Mr. Banks, but this time with Emma Thompson’s voice.

Go to critical essay:
Saving Mr. Banks
and building Mr. Brand: the Walt Disney Company in the era of corporate personhood


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