Review: Saving Mr. Banks
PLOT: When Walt Disney’s daughters wanted their father to make the film “Mary Poppins” from their favorite books, he made them a promise he would. As a man who keeps his promises, he spent nearly twenty years trying to get the author to sign a deal to make what would end up being a groundbreaking classic for Walt Disney and his studio. This is the heartwarming tale of the two iconic figures and his struggle to make it all happen.
REVIEW: If you were ever presented with Walt Disney’s classic MARY POPPINS anytime in your life you will probably find a little to a lot of joy with the new feature SAVING MR. BANKS. Starring Tom Hanks as Walt Disney himself and Emma Thompson as P.L Travers - author of the books which the film was based – this new feature explores Disney’s relentless pursuit to get her to give him the rights to make his movie. It was a pitch he made to her in the 1940’s due to a promise he made his daughters when he found them reading the books about a fantastical nanny. Every year he would make this request to Ms. Travers and every year she would turn him down. BANKS explores the reasons and just how desperately this iconic figure wanted to bring MARY POPPINS to the silver screen.
A bit of a love letter to cinema – as well as a love letter to Disney itself – this biographical tale begins with Travers finally deciding to make the trip to meet Walt in person. She is a curmudgeonly sort who simply wants to be left alone, yet she suddenly finds herself financially in need. However, Mary Poppins is something that she can’t seem to let go of, in fear that Disney would turn the film into some sort of animated musical – which he partially did. Once she arrives in Los Angeles she is welcomed with an overabundance of stuffed toys awaiting her in a luxurious hotel room. Of course this doesn’t win her over. Things get even worse when she meets the screenwriter Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford) as well as Richard and Robert Sherman (The Sherman Brothers) - played by Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak respectively – considering she specifically demanded there be no music in the film.
While much of the film is focused on Disney and his pursuit of the author, BANKS really shines as we discover exactly who this Travers person really is. As terrific as both Hanks and Thompson are, it is Colin Farrell who absolutely steals the film. Considering the trailers only feature the actor in brief glimpses you may want to avoid the next couple of lines as they do give away part of the back story. So here you go… SPOILERS: Farrell plays Travers free-spirited father who also happens to be an alcoholic. He adores his young daughter whom he lovingly refers to as Ginty. The young actress is beautifully played by 11-year-old Aussie native Annie Rose Buckley. Ruth Wilson is the long-suffering wife who is all-smiles when father and daughter are celebrating happy times, yet deeply saddened when her husband clearly loses grip on the real world with his drinking. When Aunt Ellie (Rachel Griffiths) comes to take care of them, it is abundantly obvious why Travers holds “Mary Poppins” so dear to her heart. END SPOILERS.
This sentimental story is anchored by the wonderful performances of Thompson and Hanks – as well as the phenomenal Farrell. Even the supporting characters brighten up this true life inspired story. Especially notable is Paul Giamatti as Travers limousine driver, Ralph. The heart of it all is very moving as the film spends nearly as much time on her growing up (thankfully) as it does in 1961. The touching script by Sue Smith and Kelly Marcel does a fair job of balancing the humor, as well as the more serious moments – of which there are quite a few. At times, however, it does feel a bit manipulative and fantastical itself. This is a Disney film so you aren’t necessarily going to discover a whole lot of depth necessarily. Thankfully, this entertaining flick has the power to induce smiles along the way.
If you are going into SAVING MR. BANKS for historical accuracy, you are probably going for the wrong reason. I’m not an expert on the behind the scenes of MARY POPPINS, but it is clear that the filmmakers intended to make a charming movie about what was nearly a twenty year battle between these two iconic figures. Of course MARY POPPINS was a groundbreaking classic for Walt Disney Studios so it is an interesting story, nonetheless. While it may have been more fascinating to see a more detailed – and probably more accurate - look at the making of a classic film, there is a real infectious spirit that director John Lee Hancock (THE BLIND SIDE) brings to the project which makes it a bit of an enjoyable family affair.
SAVING MR. BANKS is a “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” delight. The way the original songs from MARY POPPINS are presented are clever and a whole heaping helping of fun. And of course, both Hanks and Thompson are very good and the dialogue between them is terrific. At times, the whimsy and sentimental spirit of it all feels a bit manipulative, yet it is a Disney film about one of their most cherished films so would you expect anything less? It is hard not to be taken in by it all, especially when Disney whisks Traver’s away for a day at Disneyland. There is real joy here, however I found myself more engrossed by her early years. The story of a broken family and how young “Ginty” was able to grow up and find her own Mary Poppins in real life was fascinating. BANKS is a joyful tale made all the better by a winning cast especially the fantastic supporting performance from Colin Farrell.