Saving Mr. Banks (John Lee Hancock, 2013)
Saving Mr. Banks is based on the true story of how Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) finally convinced author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) to hand over the film rights to her book, Mary Poppins. Most people will be familiar with the 1964 film, even if they have not watched it in its entirety. Those hoping for a behind the scenes look at the making of Mary Poppins (Robert Stevenson, 1964) may be somewhat disappointed, as the current film focuses on the earlier stages of script development and skips the casting and filming process. However, Saving Mr. Banks provides interesting insight into the small war between Travers and the Poppins production team, as well as Travers’ own childhood experiences.
Given that this film has been produced by Walt Disney Studios, it is difficult to gauge how accurately they have portrayed true events. Considering that Travers never let Disney adapt any of her other publications into further movies, and that she specifically asked for the Disney franchise to be uninvolved in the recent musical production of Mary Poppins (although once she died they ended up being involved), her reaction to the premiere screening at the conclusion of the film seemed a little too positive. This is an unavoidable issue, however, and viewers should take what is presented to them with a grain of salt, rather than as irrefutable fact.
Saving Mr. Banks alternates between Travers’ trip to Walt Disney Studios in Los Angeles in 1961, and her childhood in Australia in 1906. The constant shifts from one setting to the other gave the film a stilted effect; once I started to get engaged in one story it switched back to the other. However, as the film went on I was able to get used to this and I concede that it was a necessary device to tell the story. In her early years, Travers is played by Annie Rose Buckley, with Colin Farrell as her alcoholic father, and Ruth Wilson his long-suffering wife. I was pleasantly surprised by Farrell’s performance as I’ve never seen him play a doting father before, and didn’t know he had it in him.
Emma Thompson excelled in her role as the adult P.L. Travers, delicately balancing the fine line between unlikeable and pitiful. I didn’t flat-out dislike Travers, but I did think she was a bit of a pain in the arse. (Stay for the end credits for some hilarious recordings of the real script-writing sessions). Although you feel somewhat sympathetic to Travers due to Walt Disney’s broken promises regarding Mary Poppins, you can’t hold it against him too much when you consider what a wonderful movie it became. Plus, he was played by Tom Hanks who is one of the most likeable men in Hollywood so you could hardly hate him. Jason Schwartzman and BJ Novak as composers Richard and Robert Sherman, along with Bradley Whitford as screenwriter, Don DaGradi, all provided some comic relief in roles different to those they’re usually seen in. Paul Giamatti as driver, Frank, was a gem as always. Such an underrated actor.
When the two intertwining stories converge, Saving Mr. Banks becomes a heart-warmer. Maybe Walt Disney did go back on his word regarding animated penguins, but ultimately produced a beautiful ending to Mary Poppins that only improved upon Travers’ own work, and which was somewhat rewarding for her too. Then again, the studio might be pulling a dodgy in getting us to believe that’s how it really happened… but who cares. Mary Poppins is the better movie to watch anyway. See this for some semi-plausible back story.