Lessons from Mr. Peabody, Sherman and Mr. Banks

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A boy and his dog father. A scene from “Mr. Peabody and Sherman.” Photo capture from Youtube movie trailer.

“I’m a dog, too!”  And with those words, the young boy Sherman, who has been ridiculed incessantly by his classmates, came to terms with the fact that his father is… a dog, Mr. Peabody.

Who knew an animation movie like “Mr. Peabody and Sherman” could teach kids and adults alike so many things about acceptance?

Let’s admit it.  No childhood is perfect, even if you are born in a palace.  Many people carry those buried resentments and frustrations from their growing up years all the way to adulthood.

Why am I so messed up because of my parents?  Why can’t they accept who I am?  Why don’t they have faith in me?  Why did they bring me up that way?  Why do they keep on treating me like a child?  Why don’t they just let me be happy and free?  The list goes on and on.

Ah, childhood baggage.  The issue popped into my head as I watched all in one week two movies and a play which all toyed with aspects of the theme.

In “Mr. Peabody and Sherman,” although Sherman loves and adores his adoptive father Mr. Peabody (a brilliant scientist and industrialist) very much, the little boy was nursing a secret shame at the unconventional set up.  How can his dad be a dog?  In one school lunch scene, a bratty classmate threw Sherman’s sandwich on the floor and shouted, “Fetch!”

In another scene, the same bratty girl tells Sherman to show her Mr. Peabody’s time machine.  Sherman refuses saying his father forbade him to.  “Do you always obey Mr. Peabody’s orders?” the girl asks.  “You know what that makes you?  A dog,” she says.

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The jolly Hollywood impresario meets the feisty author. Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson in a scene from “Saving Mr. Banks.” Photo capture from Youtube movie trailer.

The other movie is the Tom Hanks-Emma Thompson Disney starrer “Saving Mr. Banks.”

The film is about feisty “Mary Poppins” author P.L. Travers (played by Thomspon) and her contentious professional relationship with jolly ol’ Walt Disney (played by Hanks).  Disney has been trying to buy the rights to her book for the past 20 years and make it into a movie.

Travers hates the whimsy of Disney films, and puts her foot down on everything presented to her – from script, music, lyrics, set design, costume to choice of actor.  The film cleverly flashbacks to key moments in Travers’ childhood, particularly her relationship with her father.

Travers adored her father very much.  He was actually a drunkard who got fired in every job, but treated her daughter with so much love and tenderness.  He taught her how to dream, imagine and think freely.  But for all the faith that she had in her father, Travers also experienced disappointment when her father died early on, broken and with no wealth, and not even his dreams could save him.

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A scene from the play “Games People Play.” Photo from the production’s Facebook page.

And finally, the play I watched was “Games People Play,” the Palanca Award-winning piece by Glenn Sevilla Mas, staged by Ateneo Fine Arts at the Blackbox Theater, starring Abner Delina, Thea Yrastorza and Kalil Almonte, directed by Ed Lacson, Jr.

The play opens with the three characters, Diego, Julio and Luna talking to the audience about fairy tales and fables, but the stories are a bit warped.  Snow White is a boy.  Prince Charming is nowhere in sight to kiss Sleeping Beauty awake.  And there’s something lewd in the story of the lion and the mouse.

Among the two movies and the play, it is the play that is most disturbing in its exploration of the brokenness of its characters.

Diego suffered neglect from an emotionally distant mother and abandonment issues from his father.  Luna associated sex with feelings of shame because of abuse and her mother’s brand of religiosity.  Julio grappled with homosexual tendencies while trying to win the approval of his mother.

There is humor in the way the play approached many scenes (there are only three actors playing the kids so they do multiple roles including their parents).  The intimate scene between Luna’s drunk father and ultra-religious mother (played by the two male actors) is riotous.

But such laughs only serve as a foil to the drama as the characters come full circle into adulthood.  Luna becomes a nun. Diego is a family man.  Julio has come out of the closet.  And yet they are all still broken.

Why the play decides to beat the characters up for their psychosexual conflicts (think Freud and the idea of shame and morality in a child’s latency period) is both interesting and disturbing to me.  Is it a universal or culture-specific thing?  Is psychosexual conflict the single, strongest, overriding conflict in the characters’ psyche?  These are subjects worthy of discussion.

So what can we learn about getting over childhood baggage?

In the film, P.L. Travers had the opportunity to purge herself of her childhood baggage through her writing.  But it is also because of her childhood resentments that “Mary Poppins” almost didn’t make it to Hollywood.  She was ashamed, cynical, afraid.  How will Mr. Banks (depicted in the film as drawn from the image of P.L. Travers’ father) be depicted in Disney’s Hollywood movie?

Eventually, the book made it to film, but we all know not everybody gets a Hollywood do-over.

For young boy Sherman, letting go of baggage is a decision.  He decided to stop punishing himself for what other people think.  So his father is a dog.  So what!  Sherman realized that no amount of bias from other people can equal the love and sacrifice of Mr. Peabody to raise him the best way he knew how.  So Sherman decides that if that makes him a dog, then so be it. Indeed, a boy with a loving dog for a dad is infinitely better than someone with no love at all.

True, not everyone gets a Hollywood redemption.  But we all have the power to write the story of our lives when we forgive our past, accept the present, decide to love ourselves and carry on.

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