I watched “Saving Mr. Banks” last night.
It’s a movie created to charm. It can’t help it, since it centers around Walk Disney, Mary Poppins, and the whole lot. As an innovative institution from mid-20th century America, Disney proved itself the playground of imagination.
A Tale of Disney
The story jumps between the childhood of Pamela Travers and her adult life in 1961, negotiating with a team at Walt Disney Productions over the rights to a film adaptation of her book, “Mary Poppins.”
Emma Thompson plays an uptight, stubborn Travers while Tom Hanks dons a mustache for the role of Walt Disney himself. Their deliberations back and forth seem to go nowhere, because Travers wants to maintain her vision of Poppin’s character, while Disney wants to keep a promise he made to his daughters–to make their favorite book, “Mary Poppins,” into a film.
The movie is riddled with unabashed Disneyified cheerfulness, optimism and fun, especially in contrast to the stuffy Travers.
One line in particular captures a primary theme of the story. The scene is set in Disneyland, and Walt is trying to convince Travers to ride the carousel and enjoy a day at the park. Travers resists, as she does all movie long.
“There’s a child in all of us,” insists Disney.
Travers curtly responds, “Maybe in you, Mr. Disney, but not in me.”
“A Child In All Of Us”…Really?
If we take this seriously for a moment (at the risk of sapping some fun out of the lighthearted movie), there’s a tension this conversation reveals.
A few questions came to mind as I thought about Walt Disney’s perspective:
- If there’s a child in all of us, are we just pretending to be adults?
- What does maturity supposed to look like if we’re still children in some way?
- If life is about fun and imagination and make-believe, how will things get done in the real world?
- If we all surrender to our childish natures, how will we get along? (We all know children are mercilessly selfish.)
However, if we take the side of Pamela Travers:
- There’s little to no room for fun, imagination and exploring beyond reality.
- We’d reject exciting, new opportunities because they’re unfamiliar.
- We’d neglect to take risks that allow us to fail forward and learn from what doesn’t work.
There are useful applications of the “child in all of us” theory, and there are frivolous ones.
Telling The Difference
I think the key to discerning a healthy youthful optimism from an absurd, childish playfulness is in the context of the idea’s application.
- In creative work, push past the perceived boundaries set by others and make something great by thinking like a carefree child.
- In relationships, hold to commitments and be a sensible adult in navigating conflicts.
- Manage your budget, don’t spend what you don’t have, and plan the future like an adult.
- Allow your mind to wander sometimes so you can think about the world differently than you’ve always been told.
Since there are benefits to both, it will take an adult’s perspective to choose the right time for childlike imagination.
Do you look at life more with a child’s imagination or with an adult pragmatism?