In 1961, author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson), traveled to Los Angeles to meet with Walt Disney (Tom Hanks). Twenty years before, Disney promised his daughters that he would turn their favorite book “Mary Poppins” into a film. After corresponding for twenty years, Travers finally agreed to make the trip to discuss giving him the rights to the story. She is concerned that Disney will sully her characters and is underwhelmed by the creative team: screen writer Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford) and songwriters Robert (B.J. Novak) and Richard (Jason Schwartzman) Sherman.
Hashing out the story causes Travers to think back to her childhood in Australia, especially her relationship with her alcoholic father (Colin Farrell), who inspired the character of Mr. Banks.
Ultimately, Walt Disney’s Mary Poppins film premiered in 1964. The film won 5 Academy Awards (out of 13 nominations) and is still a beloved family film. But P.L. Travers did not like the film and refused any subsequent attempts to bring Mary Poppins to the screen.
The relationship and discussions between Travers and Disney was the subject of Travers’ biography Mary Poppins She Wrote and 2 documentaries: The Real Mary Poppins and The Shadow of Mary Poppins. The documentaries inspired a screenplay by Kelly Marcel. Disney Studios decided to produce the film.
The cast listened to the recordings from Travers sessions with the creative team and consulted with people that were there, including Richard Sherman. Thompson is incredible, an inspired casting choice. She has a difficult role, but makes it look easy. Hanks disappears into the role of Walt Disney. He has the mannerisms and little ticks that make you forget that he is playing someone else. Whitford, Novak, and Schwartzman work well together and show a range of emotions. Farrell is an interesting choice for the father, but really connects with the role. Annie Rose Buckley tackles young Travers, and nails it.
The film doesn’t try to demonize or idolize any of the characters and isn’t afraid to show the negative aspects of these icons.
Saving Mr. Banks (2013) 125 minutes
Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements including some unsettling images
Director: John Lee Hancock