Emma Thompson as P.L. Travers
Tom Hanks as Walt Disney
Annie Rose Buckley as Ginty
Colin Farrell as Travers Goff
Ruth Wilson as Margaret Goff
Paul Giamatti as Ralph
Bradley Whitford as Don DaGradi
B.J. Novak as Robert Sherman
Jason Schwartzman as Richard Sherman
Lily Bigham as Biddy
Kathy Baker as Tommie
Melanie Paxson as Dolly
Andy McPhee as Mr. Belhatchett
Rachel Griffiths as Aunt Ellie
Ronan Vibert as Diarmuid Russell
Directed by John Lee Hancock
Excellent performances by Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson and a great script give you a new appreciation for “Mary Poppins” as well as the creative process in general. “Saving Mr. Banks” is well worth checking out.
After 20 years of trying to get P.L. Travers to allow him to make a movie based on the Mary Poppins books, Walt Disney is finally successful in getting the author to reluctantly agree. The opinionated Brit travels to sunny Los Angeles for some story meetings, but in fact, she’s still unwilling to approve any movie based on her beloved character. As Disney and his creators enthusiastically try to develop the songs and script for the film, they find Travers digging in her heels more and more. They simply don’t understand why the writer is so stubborn.
Through a series of flashbacks, we meet Travers in her childhood and discover that every detail in the Mary Poppins books was firmly rooted in her past. But as we learn more about the author, we start to learn why the character of Mary is so important to her and why she’s so reluctant to let Hollywood twist the character into another image.
“Saving Mr. Banks” is rated PG-13 for thematic elements including some unsettling images.
“Saving Mr. Banks” was really enjoyable for so many reasons. First of all, it gives you a whole new appreciation for “Mary Poppins.” I had seen the film so many times over the years, but after watching this I realize how many of the subtle touches were a part of Travers’ personal life. You also see the creative process behind the making of a classic. You see the songs we know and emerge slowly evolve, you see iconic characters in their infancy, you see the casting process. Being exposed to that creative process is inspiring and adds another dimension to the film. You will want to re-watch it after seeing “Saving Mr. Banks.” Now having seen “Mary Poppins” in advance is not required for seeing “Saving Mr. Banks” but you’re going to enjoy it a lot more if you’re familiar with the Disney Classic.
This film is also enjoyable to me personally because it’s fun to see Hollywood wrestle with an author. I’ve seen this process firsthand as producers and writers have dealt with creators from a comic company I co-own. I’ve even had a comic I wrote adapted into a screenplay, so I’ve had a small taste of what Travers experienced. Seeing her act so stubbornly about the slightest details is fun to watch because I could identify with it to a lesser degree, and seeing Disney’s creators go nuts dealing with her adds most of the laughs to an otherwise dark film.
I also liked the theme of “Saving Mr. Banks” which is, “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” As Travers haggles over details like the design of houses and Mr. Banks’ moustache and animated penguins, you think she’s just stubborn and difficult. You understand why Disney and his creators wanted to strangle her, but as you learn more about her past, you understand why she was making the decisions she was, how her relationship with her father was infused in every aspect of the book, and why Mary Poppins was so important in her life beyond being a book character. It’s only when Disney understands this himself that he fully relates to Travers and gets her to soften. And understanding Travers herself ended up being the key to making Mary Poppins work and creating a classic. It’s a good lesson for everyone that has to deal with a difficult co-worker or friend or family member. Once you understand their past, it’s the key to making your relationship with them work and successfully moving ahead into the future.
The cast of “Saving Mr. Banks” is excellent. Emma Thompson is perfect as P.L. Travers. She dances a fine line with the character. If she’s too mean, the audience won’t like her – if she’s softened too much, you lose the heart of the story. Thompson manages the role in such a way that the audience understands the frustration of Disney while being sympathetic with her protectiveness as well. It’s one of Thompson’s most memorable roles.
Tom Hanks is also great as Walt Disney. While he doesn’t exactly look like Walt, he perfectly embodies the spirit of the man. Hanks spouts lines about making promises to his daughters and wanting to make beloved classics and wanting to entertain children. If it had come from anyone else, it would sound hokey yet Hanks makes you believe in Disney’s sincerity and that it’s not just an act put on by a showman. I also liked the fact that Hanks’ portrayal of Disney is not whitewashed. We see his frustration with Travers. We also see him embarrassed as he puts out a cigarette when being caught smoking. Disney was extremely conscious about his public image and not wanting to be seen as a bad example. Seeing these details makes you feel like you’re getting a more authentic view of the man and not something censored by the studio. Overall, if you put Tom Hanks’ performance in “Captain Phillips” and “Saving Mr. Banks” side by side, you appreciate his range as an actor even more.
Hanks and Thompson are backed up by a great supporting cast. Bradley Whitford, B.J. Novak, and Jason Schwartzman are fantastic as Don DaGradi and the Sherman brothers. They provide a lot of laughs as they contend with Travers, yet through their battles a classic slowly emerges. And it’s a lot of fun to revisit songs like “Let’s Go Fly A Kite,” “A Spoonful of Sugar,” “Feed The Birds,” and more with them.
Through the flashbacks, Colin Farrell is also great as P.L. Travers’ father. Like Thompson, he dances a fine line with his character. Farrell well portrays his dark side, but at the same time you appreciate his good relationship with his daughter, and he plays a much more critical role than you may realize. Ruth Wilson also is good as Margaret Goff, P.L. Travers’ mother. You feel for her as she falls deeper and deeper into depression and you start to realize how much she shaped her daughter. Paul Giamatti and Kathy Baker are given moments to shine as well.
What Didn’t Work:
I don’t have any real complaints about “Saving Mr. Banks.” It does get a tad slow at times and it does run over two hours, but it is forgivable.
The Bottom Line:
If you’re a fan of Disney, Mary Poppins, Tom Hanks, or Emma Thompson, then this is a movie you’ll want to see on the big screen. And if you’re interested in the moviemaking or writing process in general, then there’s something here for you. And you might as well pick up “Mary Poppins” on Blu-ray since you’re going to inevitably want to watch it again after seeing this. Make it a double feature.