“Winds in the east, mist coming in. Like something is brewing, about to begin.”
What a way to celebrate what would have been Walt Disney’s 112th birthday than with a D23 screening of “Saving Mr. Banks” in Philadelphia. Members of the official Disney fan club gathered at the Ritz Five Theatre in Old City for the special preview of the Disney Pictures holiday release which documents Walt’s 20-year attempt to get the rights to “Mary Poppins” from author P.L. Travers.
I was a bit intrigued on how actor Tom Hanks could capture the essence of Walt Disney. What I have come to appreciate is that the two-time Oscar winner is perhaps the only actor who could pull off the complexities of Uncle Walt. Bearing a resemblance to Disney with his hair and moustache and signature grey suit that we often see Walt wearing during the opening of the “Wonderful World of Disney,” the movie delves into not only Walt-the-showman but also Walt-the-businessman and just how frustrated he got with Travers over her repeated reluctance to turn over her umbrella-flying nanny to the Disney empire.
Equally compelling is Emma Thompson in the role of Travers who is just as complicated a character as Disney. If everything is by the book or at least by Disney’s version of the untold true story, fans of “Poppins” will realize that the movie is not about the carpetbag-carrying nanny but more about Travers’ own childhood and her relationship with her father, Travers Goff, played by Colin Farrell.
From the beginning when Disney meets the writer at his studios and calls her Pam and she refuses to call him Walt, the tension is obvious between the two powerful forces of entertainment. Disney tells Travers that his daughters were the real motivation behind him wanting to take “Mary Poppins” from book form to movie musical because of a promise that he made to his daughters Diane and Sharon. Hanks in the character of Walt tells Travers a dad never goes back on a promise to his children. Maybe this is what catches Travers off guard because of her own father’s inability to keep promises to her in her youth.
There is a heartwarming scene near the end of the movie when Disney, realizing that Travers’ reluctance toward the movie has nothing to do with his desire to turn her work into a musical but more about her father and her childhood, launches one final attempt to secure the rights from the author. Disney travels to the writer’s London home and over a cup of tea, recounts his own struggles with his father and how he had to move beyond them to be a success. He used his own life experiences as a last ditch effort to tell Travers that she too needs to put her past behind her, continue to love and adore her father, but move on.
Who better to really appreciate all of the Disney touches that went into making this vintage movie, than those D23 members who packed the screening? Fine details abound from the retro Mickey, Pluto and Donald plush animals that await Travers when she checks into her room at the Beverly Hills Hotel to the costume, wardrobe and characters that transport audiences back to Disneyland and opening night of “Mary Poppins” in 1964 at Grauman’s Chinese Theater.
Details are also obvious in some of the items in Walt’s studio office, where you can see a map of the state of Florida, where Disney would locate his second theme park, a poster for the attraction “It’s A Small World,” and the many plush animals like Mickey and Minnie Mouse that Walt refers to as family.
“Saving Mr. Banks” is rated PG-13. It really is not intended for young audiences. Parents thinking that they can take their young kids to watch a flying nanny, high-stepping chimney sweeps, and dancing penguins should just go out and rent the DVD or purchase the recently released anniversary-edition Blu-Ray of the original movie. Spoiler alert…those dancing penguins play a pivotal moment in which Disney is at his wits-ends to save “Mary Poppins” when Travers storms out of the rehearsal hall and flies back to England.
This wonderful testimonial to movie making and in particular Disney movie making is a must see film this holiday season. It is no wonder there is a lot of Oscar buzz surrounding this movie for Hanks, Thompson and Farrell.
It is equally no wonder why the theater erupted into thunderous applause at the end of the movie and practically everyone remained seated to watch the closing credits which share some unique original photos and sketches from the production of “Mary Poppins.” And just when you thought it was all over, the credits continue with the original audio recordings of Travers in production meetings with the Sherman Brothers and screenwriter Dan DaGradi.
“Saving Mr. Banks” opens in theaters December 20th.