Saturday, August 15, 2015

Saving Mr. Banks - Film Review

Intro
Disney's Saving Mr. Banks

Saving Mr. Banks came out in 2013. It tells the story of the making of Disney's transcendent classic: Mary Poppins. This film casts Emma Thompson as P.L. Travers and Tom Hanks as Walt Disney.

What I Will Not Talk About

  • The Plot — You can look that up on IMDB. (I linked to it above) Here's a hint: In the end, Disney makes the movie Mary Poppins. Should I have said "spoiler alert"?
  • Whether the movie's events actually happened in real life. Briefly: they didn't. That's not the point.
  • How grumpy British people are. I don't know. I've met pleasant people. I've met grumpy people. Whatever.
  • How great Emma Thompson is at playing a writer — please tell me you haven't forgotten Stranger Than Fiction...

Film Adaptions

What really fascinated me about this film is the process of translating the pages of a good book onto the silver screen. There are a lot of things that go into a movie adaption of a book — as one can easily imagine. A work of fantasy can be interpreted multiple ways. But a movie only shows one interpretation. This inevitably leads to disappointment.

As a librarian, people always seem to ask me what I think of this film adaption or that one. (The Hobbit, Narnia, Game of Thrones...) Each time, I respond the same way: film is an art form that stands alone and has its own merits. This is technically correct (remember Library School?) but when people ask that question, they seem to want to commiserate more than actually listen to a gracious opinion.

This particular film brings several aspects to the fore wich go beyond technical problems and generic filmmaker interpretations. These aspects are as follows:
  1. The Author's Relationship with their work.

    P.L. Travers consistently refers to the characters in Mary Poppins as family. Consider the hardships of writing a piece of fiction and pouring yourself into character and plot development. Imagine how hard it must be to go through the process of having your creative work critiqued by friends, family and complete strangers. Then imagine success. Could anyone other than you really know those characters intimately?
  2. The Author's Second chance to make things right.

    At one point, P.L. Travers made changes to the characters. One specific point that she tried (unsuccessfully) to change was Mr. Banks' facial hair. She (in the movie) mentioned that she pushed for Mr. Banks to be clean shaven in the books, but the publisher insisted on giving him a mustache. Could it be that an author might see a film adaptation as an opportunity to seize back some creative control that a publisher snatched from them? I am in no position to say how often this actually happens, but it does not seem like a far-fetched scenario.
  3. The Filmmaker's passion.

    Finally, we are given a name, a face and a reason why the filmmaker pushed their interpretation onto the film. Specifically, Walt Disney insisting on Mr. Banks retaining his mustache and making the film into a musical (with animated penguins). Filmmakers (contrary to popular belief) probably do not make changes with the intent of ruining a story. Filmmakers are artists at heart. They want to use their creativity to tell stories and have reasons behind their decision-making. You have the right to disagree with their decisions, but they are people too.

Conclusion

I really liked Saving Mr. Banks a lot. It helped me to place a few of the thoughts that I have had concerning film adaptations and why they can still be good even if they don't adhere to the original books. I recommend this movie.

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