Saving Mr. Banks is a fictionalized account of how Walt Disney acquired the rights to adapt Mary Poppins. It reveals the culmination of a 20 year battle he had with Poppins creator P.L. Travers. This is the first time Disney is portrayed in one of his own films during a time where his studio faced one of its greatest challenges.
- Director: John Lee Hancock
- Writers: Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith
- Cast: Tom Hanks, Emma Thompson, Colin Farrell, Jason Schwartzman, B.J. Novak, Bradley Whitford, Paul Giamatti, Annie Rose Buckley
- Cinematography: John Schwartzman
- Music by: Thomas Newman and The Sherman Brothers
P.L. Travers (Thompson) arrives in Los Angeles to oversee production on Walt Disney’s adaptation of her work but really aims to circumvent its advancement at every turn. Everyone on the production from Disney (Hanks) to director Don DaGradi (Whitford) and the music team of the Sherman Brothers (Schartzman and Novak) are perplexed as to how to please Pamela. Disney’s hopes of finally making good on a promise to his daughters to make Poppins are threatened as his vision continuously clashes with Travers’. The difficulties of the pre-production are juxtaposed with Travers’ childhood reflections of what Poppins means to her. Her memories are a revealing look at her very personal way of coping with the relationship she had with her alcoholic father (Farrell). A past that would serve as her catalyst to create the family savior: Mary Poppins.
- Both sides have a point: Travers is portrayed as a shrewd but it’s not out of a mean spirit. Thompson plays Pamela as a woman who uses her tough exterior to protect what’s precious to her. In her childhood she watched her favorite person in the world spiral out of control. She was deeply impacted by a stern governess who aided her family through that rough patch and naturally having this figure be altered from her original creation would be quite challenging. So while Disney tried to enchant Travers with his whimsical take on Poppins, she feared the integrity of her story was being compromised. Her stubbornness blinded her to the similar reason Walt wished to make the picture, to keep his promises as a father and honor the memory of his childhood.
- Hanks and Thompson: Both actors make it difficult to pick a side. The life they bring to these characters are powerful performances. You root for both to get their way because of how vital this story is to them and how they want it to be told. Emma’s immovability versus Tom’s refusal to give up, make Travers and Disney great foils. Hanks captures Disney’s spirit,and his drive to do the impossible. Thompson delivers an amazing turn as a woman who is such a force of nature that you almost feel like she’ll really halt the movie.
- The Supporting Cast: Everyone in the ensemble gives solid performances. Novak and Schwartzman are delightful as the Sherman Brothers. They authentically brought the Sherman’s personalities to the moments where their classic music was created. Whitford and Giamatti are scene stealers, particularly Giamatti near the end. The scenes of the sessions between the creative team and Travers are hilarious. Every actor plays off each other with impeccable timing. However, Farrell delivers a tour de force as Travers Goff in Pamela’s tragic backstory. Along with the wonderfully talented Annie Rose Buckley (Young Pamela), his charismatic performance shines as the doomed but loving father who falls apart before his child.
- The Writing: Marcel has crafted a story that is much more than just about winning the rights. It’s a heartfelt tale about the impact stories have on the individual. Everyone develops a relationship with a piece of work due to their personal experiences. It explores both creators’ connections to Poppins through their relationships with their fathers, which makes the film incredibly identifiable.
- Time Period/Setting: It was delightful to see Walt Disney Studios, when Walt was still around. The nostalgia of seeing it in its early glory days was fantastic and the use of the actual settings only made the film more endearing. The details were astounding. From the animator boards filled with Poppins concept art to the painstaking care in recreating Walt’s office. The scene where Walt takes Travers to Disneyland is like being transported to a time where he roamed his kingdom and made magic for guests.
Saving Mr. Banks is a charming production, funny and sentimental all at once. It’s an incredibly moving film about family and overcoming the past through art. The Disney legacy and the hard work of everyone involved with Mary Poppins is paid tribute to in this live-action love-letter.
The Rating: 10/10
Saving Mr. Banks opens in limited release December 13 and wide on December 20.
Will you be seeing Saving Mr. Banks this weekend?