Friday, January 10, 2014

Disney Vs Travers

Ahhhh, Christmas. A festive time for church by candlelight, homemade cookies, brightly wrapped presents, a beautifully lit tree, and escaping your family as soon as possible after the dishes are cleared. Don't get me wrong, I love my family. We really are a closely knit group. But I can only handle so much before I need to run away to the comfort of friends who don't gift me too-small sweaters and wildly inappropriate greeting cards. Thus began the tradition of going to a late movie showing on Christmas Day with my best friend, Jenn.

Jenn has been a huge supporter of my blog from the very beginning. Although I've known her for her entire life (Yay church friends!) we really reconnected through Facebook, and even more so when I started writing this blog. You may know her as the girl who puts up with me every Monday night for my guilty viewing of The Bachelor. She got me to run a 5K at the Bronx Zoo for my birthday last year. Feel free to read Butterfly Garden for an intimate look at our day there. What Jenn is best known for though, besides being an awesome friend, spoiling her baby niece and nephew, and baking all things Red Velvet, is being the most stubborn cynic I have ever met.

Have you ever looked at a friendship and thought "How in the hell do we make this work?" That would be Jenn and me. We are polar opposites. I want a boyfriend. Jenn is staunchly single. I want to get married. Jenn is happy whether she ever walks down an aisle or not. I want babies (as my ovaries begrudgingly remind me every month!) Jenn calls them parasites who suck the life out of you for nine months and drain your bank account for the next thirty years.

Neither one of us is right and neither one of us is wrong. There's no judgement in our friendship. She accepts that I am a Disney princess loving / happily ever after believing / romantic fairy tale living / someday my prince will come hoping / tall blonde who dreams of riding off into the sunset, popping out a few young'uns and baking chocolate chip cookies every day after school. I accept that Jenn is a skeptical / cynical / poker of fun at all the holes in my John Hughes directed life who sees herself buying an apartment and traveling the world before settling into a relationship she may or may not ever seal with a ring and a ceremony. I enjoy online dating. She dreads it. I get excited for dates. She'd rather stay home in pajamas watching Netflix. I try on the last name of every man I go out with (usually before the first date) and have china patterns picked out before we finish dinner. She wouldn't take a man's name IF she decided to marry him and she'd probably design her own collection of dishware because she's a fabulous artist. Any man who ends up with Jenn has his work cut out for him. He's got a lot of walls to break down and a lot of sarcasm to cut through before finding out that she's just about the kindest, most generous, loyal, loving, wonderful person you'll meet. But I've had thirty years to get to know that about her. I worry that any guy will be able to see past her rock hard exterior in time to fall in love.

The funny thing is, Jenn doesn't worry about that at all. She is unapologetic in not needing a husband and kids in her life. I want a family. She wants to further her career. Those are the choices we single women are allowed to make and we should support each other no matter what. I am happy for my friends when they figure out the things that make them happy and fiercely strive to achieve their dreams. That's the best kind of friendship a girl could ask for.

So on Christmas Day, me being the eternal optimist that I am, dragged Jenn to see Saving Mr Banks at the movie theater. I adore Mary Poppins as a film and as a character, although the books portray a much darker back story. Without spoiling too much for you (GO SEE IT if you haven't already!) PL Travers wrote Mary Poppins largely based on her own family. Walt Disney found his daughters reading it one night, giggling as little girls are want to do. He promised them that he would turn their precious Mary Poppins into a beloved feature film for children and adults all over the world to enjoy for generations to come. It took him twenty years to convince Travers to sell him the rights to the book so that he could keep this promise to his daughters. She was demanding. She was outrageous. She was inappropriate. She made endless lists of what Disney could and could not do in the film. Costumes, locations, names, accents. She wanted NO animation and NO music. She didn't even want Dick Van Dyke! Can you now imagine anyone else playing Bert? He's a classic! Basically, Travers as a writer was a filmmaker like Disney's worst possible nightmare. She hated everyone and everything. She was impossible to work with. Although she eventually did relinquish the rights to the books, she hated with a passion the film that Disney created in the end. The movie we all grew up on and love with all our hearts. The iconic music we know, the songs that get stuck in our heads, the legend that Mary Poppins became. PL Travers hated it all.

During the film, Walt Disney is almost always smiling. He makes every concession to Travers that he possibly can. He is jovial and in full form while working with her, Don, and the Sherman Brothers as a team to make this film a reality. Disney is patient and peppy and always a gracious host. He's charming yet sincere, accommodating yet dedicated. More than once, we hear Walt ask "What can I do to make you happy?" The truth is that Walt was getting sicker by the day and Mary Poppins would be his swan song, although no one really knew that at the time. Walt Disney has long been my hero and Tom Hanks portraying him on the big screen made me fall even deeper in love with everything the man strived to create. The empire Walt built has inspired princesses and pirates and heroes and goodness in children and adults all over the world. I'm starting to get sentimental here, but you get my point. I can't imagine living in a world without Disney, and I wouldn't want to.

By comparison, PL Travers (not her real name) was a crochety old witch who I spent almost two whole hours despising. It's not often that I get such a visceral reaction to a character on screen, one whom I simply cannot abide. I suppress my negative feelings about people in general, something I'm trying to pay closer attention to, but this Travers pushed every button I have inside me. She grated on my last nerve and I could almost say that I hated her. The beauty of Saving Mr Banks is that you're supposed to hate her! She's trying to stop one of the best films of all time from being made! But in the next breath, the movie reveals her childhood, where Mary Poppins came from, where Mr Banks and the children came from, and you cannot help but feel a stab of sadness at what this poor girl survived at such a tender, young age. Don't worry, you'll hate her again in a minute when they flash forward to London 1961 and she makes obnoxiously snarky comments to the secretary. If you're anything like me, you may want to reach through the screen and punch her in the face for treating everyone in the world like a second class citizen.

As the credits rolled, I was still wiping my tears at the powerful emotion of it all. A little girl's relationship with the father she loved so much. A storyteller desperately trying to share this wonderful character with the world while keeping a twenty year old promise to his children. A mother's gut-wrenching desperation of being ill-prepared to raise her babies in the desolation of Australia's outback. A limousine driver whose easy nature and gentle, friendly demeanor endeared him to the audience in a surprising way, despite his supporting role. I danced in my seat, I sang along (quietly I promise!), I cheered for Walt Disney and I couldn not stand PL Travers.

Jenn was precisely the opposite.

Jenn loved Travers. She loved how stubbornly she rebuked Walt Disney's happy, smily, entirely too chipper and cheerful nature. She loved how Travers stood up for what she wanted at every turn, defending her masterpiece and not letting anyone take her say away from her. She loved how sharp and witty and biting Travers was, how unyielding in her ways, how fierce in her fight. Travers had a mean streak in her that she was unafraid to lash out on anyone around her, but it came from a place of unhealed pain. She needed to forgive herself. She needed to let go.

As we left the theatre, I hugged Jenn, teary eyes and emotional from Christmas and the movie and being single on yet another holiday. Her reaction was to laugh, pat me on the back and say "You alright there, Disney?" I stared at her blankly for a moment before she explained. "That movie was about us. You're optimistic and hopeful and obnoxiously cheerful. Like, seriously, all the time. And I'm kind of a bitch and you know you want to hate me but for whatever strange reason, we just work. You're Disney. I'm Travers."

They might be the weirdest nicknames two best friends can have for each other, but they suit us perfectly. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go fly a kite!


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