As a child, Julie Andrews was imprinted on my brain. I spent twenty years doing my best to follow in her footsteps as I went from being a preschool teacher to a piano teacher, always trying to adopt the Spoonful of Sugar method of making learning fun. One of my most cherished belongings was the soundtrack to Mary Poppins, and as a five year old, I warbled my own rendition of " If you want this choice position..." . Two years later, I did my darnedest to learn how to spell Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. So I was pleasantly disposed to see a film about the making of the movie which has loomed so large in my consciousness
The previews of Saving Mr. Banks had prepared me for an amusing confrontation between the stuffy P.L. Travers (delightfully played by Emma Thompson) and the irrepressible Walt Disney (Tom Hanks, with his ever present boyish charm); what they did not prepare me for was the catch in the throat and the ache of yearning.
For what this film is really about it the desperate, lifelong desire of the author to save her imaginative, playful, loving father from the demons that ultimately destroyed him.
The film is a triumphant look at the power of narrative therapy. Nothing can alter the fact of her father's alcoholism, and nothing Travers could do could save him from his early death. But rewriting the ending of Mary Poppins in such a way that the beleaguered, exasperated father of the film reconnects to his longing and lonely children may well have saved her own troubled soul. Thompson is brilliant as she slowly melts her armor of iciness and scorn, revealing the grief stricken and guilt ridden little girl who yearns with all of her unconscious might for a happy ending.
The sounds of sniffles were very loud in the cinema at the end of this movie, and I saw men and women alike openly weeping. In the film of Mary Poppins, Mr. Banks needs to be liberated from his workaholism and the tyrannical notion that money alone will buy happiness, security and well being. His redemption comes when he mends his children's torn toy and they "go fly a kite", a potent symbol for an attitude of free flying imagination. In real life Travers' father was not nearly enough concerned with the tangible well being and financial security of his family. His fantasies got away from him and he was so full of "spirit" ( at the literal level) that it killed him and left his family destitute. Where is the middle way of the masculine that can allow both duty and dreaming? That via media , I think. is captured in the character of Walt Disney himself., who never loses touch with his own imaginal life, but has his feet on the ground enough solidly enough to do whatever it takes ( and in this case, it is quite a lot!) to keep the promises he made to his daughters.
The question for the collective I was left with as I exited the theater is, "What is it about fatherhood or the Archetypal Father that needs saving right now? And just what might that look like?"