Who hasn't seen, or at the very least heard of, Mary Poppins? The magical story of two young children, their parents, a chimney sweep, and a very special nanny is one that has become familiar to families through the years. What isn't as familiar is how the movie came about.
Saving Mr. Banks explores the based on true events story of P.L. Travers, author of the Mary Poppins book series, and Walt Disney, the man who after 20 years of persuading finally gets the rights to turn the book into a feature film. No spoiler alert is needed since the film has been already been made, but the film centers more on how difficult it actually was for Disney to get Travers to sign over the rights.
This movie runs similarly to that of Julie & Julia. There are two story lines that bounce back and forth that support one another and make the overall film more interesting. First we are introduced to Travers' childhood. As the film progresses, the audience gets drawn deeper and deeper into what at first seems like a happy childhood that then sours which plays a major role and does much explaining for how Travers is as an adult. The second story line centers around Disney's attempts to get Travers to sign over the rights to her book by having his staff go through the script, songs, character sketches and more.
You almost feel bad for the song writers who worked so hard to create something beautiful and who fought so hard to make Mrs. Travers happy as she had final say on the project. But at the same time, you can understand why Mary Poppins means so much to its author and why she would be reluctant to give her up unless everything was "practically perfect." There is just the right balance between the two story lines to allow the audience to slowly unravel what happened. Overall, a well told story.
As for the actors, Emma Thompson plays Mrs. Travers brilliantly. The author does come off as stuffy and hard to impress, but never cold. She says what she means in a blunt, unapologetic way and when the rare smile shows through, the audience can't help but smile back. Tom Hanks on the other hand continued to be Tom Hanks. It was difficult to forget the actor and remember who he was playing while on screen, but Hanks does a wonderful job of portraying Disney's enthusiasm and spirit. While a no-name actor might have been able to blend in more and allow the audience to see more Disney and less Hanks, the role was given due respect and the research done definitely shows through.
This movie is really more about P.L. Travers than Walt Disney. Her back story and her inner conflict with whether or not to sign over the rights to her book makes for a compelling dramatic piece. Not one that would keep very young audiences entertained, but something more suitable for older audiences. Laughs will be had, tears may be shed, but audiences will leave the theater with a deeper appreciation for the film making process, Travers, and a well beloved Disney classic.
Stay during the credits as actual photographs and recorded conversations with Travers during the creative process are showcased.
If you're inspired to do your own research about P.L. Travers and Mary Poppins, you may be disappointed. Contrary to what Saving Mr. Banks will have you believe, Mrs. Travers didn't actually like the Disney film and never released any of the rights to her books that followed.