It’s hard to find someone whose childhood didn’t involve many viewings of Mary Poppins. The 1964 Disney classic is my mother’s favorite film, so naturally, it was something that was playing in my house a lot when I was a kid. I do admit, it’s been way too long since my last viewing, but it’s a film that never quite left my mind. It has yet to leave the conscious of Disney as well, as they’ve brought the film back to life with their new film, Saving Mr. Banks. In the film directed by John Lee Hancock (The Blindside), we see the great lengths that Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) went to in order to convince author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) to let Disney take her beloved novel and make it into a movie.
The film begins with a look at P.L. Travers childhood in Australia. As we begin, things seem to be good for her, as she has a loving father (Colin Farrell) who encourages her use of imagination. But soon we learn that he struggles with alcoholism, making life hard for Travers family, especially her mother (Ruth Wilson). As she grows up, P.L. uses her hardships as the basis of her story, Mary Poppins. This becomes her masterpiece, her life’s work. Through the years, Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) tries to convince her to let him take the story and turn it into a Disney film. For nearly two decades straight, she flat out denies him. It’s not until she becomes financially tight that she finally gives in.
Only, it’s not that easy. In order to make the film, Disney needs Travers to sign over the rights. She won’t do so unless the film is exactly how she wants it. This shouldn’t have been to tough, but P.L. Travers was exactly that, tough. She was stubborn and stern, wanting things exactly her way. Disney assigns The Sherman Brothers, Richard (Jason Schwartzman) & Robert (B.J. Novak), to write the films songs, and Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford) to write the film. Some of the funniest moments of the film come in the writers room where Travers butts heads with the writers, not budging at all from her vision. This infuriates them, but there’s no film to be made without her approval, so they have to do their best to work with her, which is nearly impossible.
At first, Travers stubbornness becomes grating and relentlessness. This is due to a fierce portrayal by the great Emma Thompson who is almost too perfect for the role. She doesn’t budge an inch for anyone, and surely doesn’t play well with others. It’s not until we see flashbacks to her childhood that we start to see connections between her life and the novel, and we soon begin to understand why she’s so thorny about having things exactly her way. We begin to sympathize for her, and slowly, but surely, Disney and the writers start to understand this and try to find a happy medium for everyone.
To no surprise, Saving Mr. Banks, is played out fairly safe and predictable. This is no matter, as it is led by strong performances by it’s two leads. Thompson is incredible as Travers, and her toughness is balanced out by the wholesome and upbeat Tom Hanks who nails the prolific role of Walt Disney with his usual Tom Hanks wholesomeness. Schwartzman, Novak, and Whitford are entertaining comic relief, and there’s a nice little role from Paul Giamatti as Travers kind-hearted chauffeur, Ralph. But the real surprise for me was the work from Colin Farrell as Travers troubled father. Farrell has been taking some better roles over the years, and this is easily one of the best of his as of late.
Saving Mr. Banks is enjoyable family-fun and definitely a needed escape from the serious dramatic films that we will be surrounded with as Oscar season approaches. It’s not perfect, and there’s definitely the issue of how much of the plot happenings are truths, and what was changed by screenwriters Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith to give the film a happier ending. In truth, Travers wasn’t as pleased with how Mary Poppins turned out as Saving Mr. Banks portrays her to be.
I can forgive any shortcomings when you have so many tight performances that will leave you feeling warm inside and wanting to find your copy of Mary Poppins and take a trip back down memory lane.