This morning I had to be up early for a “special mission”: Mrs. Lee’s donuts for the Kid Squid. So to kill some time I watched the movie Saving Mr. Banks, about the author of Mary Poppins P.L. Travers, and Walt Disney. At first I thought it was just about the struggles Walt Disney had with Travers in an effort to get the rights to her book. Emma Thompson played her as a perfect bitch, but the longer I watched the more I came to realize that Mary Poppins was really about a little girl who lost her charming, alcoholic but beloved father and the profound lifelong effect it had on her.
While Travers’ father lay dying, her mother (definitely not the stable one in the family either) decides to drown herself because she can’t cope. The young Travers, probably about 11 or so, chases her mother and pulls her out of the lake. Shortly after, Travers aunt swoops in with her giant carpetbags full of cure-alls and fix-its and tries to create some order in the house. Unfortunately she wasn’t able to do the one thing she said she would do and “make everything alright”. Despite her father saying he would never leave her, he too failed to keep his promise.
Travers seemed to become a rigid and angry person who really trusted no one. She had been let down by several of the most important people in her life destroying her ability to trust or even emotionally connect with anyone else. The longer I watched the movie the more similarities I saw to the way I felt after my Dad died when I was twelve. I might not have even noticed it had I not been talking about him with my Mother yesterday. Although I don’t think I grew up quite as emotionally stunted as Travers, I recognized many of the same behaviours in myself. I put up those same walls around my emotions, or some of them anyway as there was a time when anger really was the only emotion I allowed very free rein. I allowed people to get only so close before shooting them down in a hail of sarcasm and snide remarks. And I really didn’t trust, or was too afraid to trust, almost everyone in my life. Even as an adult it’s very hard for me to fully (or even partially) trust because I just know that I’ll be hurt. And as difficult as it is to understand that as an adult, it’s near impossible as a twelve year old.
In order for Disney to get the rights to the book, Travers came up with some goofy requirements: no animation since she hated cartoons, no musicals and the absence of the colour red. At one point she became so upset that the father in the story was being portrayed as cruel that she stormed off the set and went back to her hotel. However, when the animated penguins appeared on the scene, she fled back to England with the rights to the book firmly in her grasp.
Now that we’ve come this far, I’ll let you in on a little secret: the movie is NOT a doom and gloom sad story. This is not really a spoiler unless you’ve been living in a cave for the last 50 years, but Walt Disney makes the movie and becomes the person who sort of restores her faith in people (despite the penguins and musical numbers and red striped jackets). He really fought tooth and nail to make the movie because he made a promise to his daughters twenty years before and he was damned sure going to keep it. Disney even managed to redeem the hapless loser father character in the movie. It made for a sweet movie but in reality the collaboration between Disney and Travers was less than amicable. She dug in her heels and refused to agree to anything the studio came up with (you can even hear real tapes of her in the rehearsals during the end credits).
It sort of surprised me that I related so much with Travers. I think I am, for the most part, a bit less abrasive than she was but for two hours today I was a twelve year old girl again with a broken heart.