Fans of Disney films, and in particular Mary Poppins and those interested in the back story of how that film came to pass will find this almost biopic about author P.L. Travers intriguing and even emotionally moving. Saving Mr Banks is a somewhat confusing title as the film focuses on Travers and her dealings with Walt Disney in the production stages of the adaptation of the book to film. However once you get about halfway into the film, you’ll understand the reasoning behind the moniker.
We begin in the past, we’re introduced to Ginty (Annie Rose Buckley) and her playful whimsical father Travers Goff (Colin Farrell) and then we flash forward to P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) daydreaming in her chair. The majority of this film is done this way, snapping back and forth between the past and the “present” of Travers’ life to narrate, provide context but also show the parallels of the journey. Travers is being repeatedly pestered by Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) and the production company for the rights to adapt her beloved book to film. Initially Travers begins as abrasive, difficult and stubborn. Refusing to sign anything or hand over the rights without having creative control and every single demand met. Disney is just as bull-headed, determined to fulfil the wish of his daughters to bring Mary Poppins to the screen and practically bending over backwards to accommodate Travers despite some of the absurdity of those requests. The climactic turning point of the film is when Disney discovers that the reason why Travers is so protective is that the book very much reflects events and people in her own life, and namely that Mr Banks is a depiction of her adored father, that’s when we see a shift in both our leads. We all know that yes Disney manages to succeed in making the movie, so we know this has a somewhat happy ending but it’s really the journey that is the point.
Our two leads Thompson and Hanks are equally engrossing and endearing. Hanks in particular manages to embody the warm friendly spirit as well as the strong leader and business figure that was Disney at his peak and he even manages to sneak in a very subtle stubbing out of a cigarette into the film to add a touch of realism to his portrayal. A surprising one since it’s the first theatrical film made featuring Disney as a leading character. Thompson nails the prim, proper, snappy Travers who is prone to offending everybody in her presence and she doesn’t seem to care. We get a few little titbits of comedy when her prickly sensibilities come up against those trying to be genuinely nice too. The supporting cast are also fabulous, particularly Paul Giamatti’s perpetually cheerful chauffeur Ralph. He quite nearly manages to steal every scene he’s in with Thompson, and be prepared for a Kleenex moment when he has a little D&M with Mrs Travers about why he’s so interested by the Los Angeles weather. BJ Novak and Jason Schwartzman are the patient brotherly song writing duo Robert and Richard Sherman who brought life to the songs, while screenwriter Don DaGradi played by Bradley Whitford is perpetually exasperated over the entire scenario.
As with John Lee Hancock’s previous directorial effort The Blind Side we’re treated to a lot of softly lit shots and panoramic scene-scapes and odd dollops of slow-mo. He’s done a marvellous job in splitting the eras up as well, from Travers’ youth in the early 1900’s in rural Australia through to 1960’s Los Angeles and London. There’s a sense of magic, wonder and whimsy in the scenery which ties in with the Disney sensibility too. Thomas Newman provides a fairly standard Newman-esque score but we get the occasional dabbling of those famous Poppins songs like ‘Feed The Birds’, ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’ and ‘Chim Chim Cheree’ dropping in to complete the picture and cross-promotion.
For those of us who are Disney fans, and for anybody who adores Mary Poppins this is definitely a film worth watching. Personally I love seeing films or documentaries about how things were made or how they came to be. I never knew much about P.L. Travers and even though this does gloss over the fact that she hated Disney’s final product, it’s nice to see how it came to eventuate regardless. Just be prepared to shed a few tears.
Review Score: THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Saving Mr Banks opens nationally on 9th January 2014 through Walt Disney Studios & Hopscotch Features
Running Time: 125 minutes