The stories behind the story of Mary Poppins, both the book and the movie, are fascinating tales – probably more fascinating than any of us realized until now. Saving Mr. Banks explores two of these stories bouncing back and forth from the early 1900’s when author P.L. Travers was just a little girl living in Australia and 1961 when she made the trip from London to Los Angeles to meet with Mr. Disney and hopefully discourage him from turning her book into a movie.
The movie presents a mystery – how can such a happy and imaginative girl in the first story turn into such a sourpuss in the second? Mrs. Travers’ younger self (Annie Rose Buckley) spent her days building houses out of twigs and leaves while her adoring father (Colin Farrell), would spin wild tales to entertain her. Her mother (Ruth Wilson) was distant, but for good reason. When her husband wasn’t drinking, he gave all his energy to his daughter. It is important to note that all of these scenes are seen from a child's point of view.
In 1961, the adult Travers, (an unrecognizable Emma Thompson), is no longer the free-spirit she once was. She’s completely no-nonsense and has little tolerance for just about anyone. Paul Giamatti plays her personal cab driver during her stay that is just as sunny as the weather. Both are a little much for Travers. She is warmly welcomed by Walt Disney (Tom Hanks), Robert and Richard Sherman (B. J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman), Disney’s two secretaries Dolly and Tommie (Melanie Paxson and Kathy Baker) but no matter what they do or say, Travers is not impressed. It’s going to be a long road to travel to get this film made.
Saving Mr. Banks is the first feature-length, theatrical drama to depict Walt Disney and the movie studio have entrusted Tom Hanks with the task. No pressure. Disney is one of America’s most recognizable icons so if Hanks doesn’t get it right, everyone will know. Fortunately, he nails it. Hanks doesn’t necessarily look or sound like Disney, but he captured his mannerisms and in short order, he becomes Walt. Thompson is both hilarious and sad as Travers causing one to feel annoyed and saddened for her at the same time. She is a tortured woman and Thompson does an incredible job with the role. An Oscar nomination is not out of the question.
Both stories work well together and both feature beautiful photography. The movie is a comedy/drama where the comedy is downplayed and the drama isn’t overdone. It is a tribute to both Disney and Travers in that it isn’t heavy-handed and features a redemptive ending. Old Walt looks like a saint throughout the film and maybe that is unrealistic, but that's the memory most of us want to have of the man. The only thing that would have made me happier would be if Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke had cameo roles in the film. If you are either a Mary Poppins or Walt Disney fan, this movie is for you. Even with the PG-13 rating, some parents may think that this is a family movie. It is to some extent, but for older kids only. Younger children will be bored.