"Saving Mr Banks" is certainly the most surprising of the holiday films, released Dec 20 in San Francisco - the story of P.L. Travers and the insistent Walt Disney who brought to film the beloved "Mary Poppins". This Disney classic for all ages debuted on Aug 27, 1964 at Grauman's Chinese Theater starring Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins (Andrew's film debut and an Academy Award for Best Actress), Dick Van Dyke as Bert, David Tomlinson as Mr. Banks, and Glynis Johns, as Mrs. Banks.
In the opening minutes of "Saving Mr. Banks", Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) explains that he promised his daughter that he would make a film about "Mary Poppins", with pictures of Sharon Mae Disney and Diane Disney Miller adorning his office walls. This film is dedicated to Diane Disney Miller who passed away on Nov 19.
Walt Disney was born on Dec 5 and the Walt Disney Family Museum which was Diane's gift to San Francisco was open to the public on his birthday free of charge Disney Miller revealed to the staff at the museum that this was her "book", her contribution to her father's legacy, and her vision has helped to bring Disney - the father, husband and talented animator into the lives of his fans in a more intimate way than previously.
Playing Walt Disney was not an easy job, the magical entrepreneur that after 20 years convinced P.L Travers, Pamela Lyndon Travers, the enchanting author of "Mary Poppins" to allow him to make a film about her book. More successful in conveying the complexities of her illustrious character is Emma Thompson as Travers.
Everything seems to be annoying to the proper lady from London who hailed from Australia. The film runs a parallel thread that dives into the history of Travers who grew up on a plot of land with her parents and siblings. Her father, Travers Goff (Colin Farrell), was an alcoholic who was demoted to the level of a bank clerk because of his drinking bouts. We learn that the character of the young P.L. Travers (Ginty played by Ann Rose Buckley) was utterly devoted to him and his untimely death was a terrible blow to her. Assisting her mother Margaret (Ruth Wilson) and children until his unfortunate demise was Ginty's Aunt Ellie (played by Rachel Griffiths) whose silhouette in the doorway of the house with carpetbag, huge hat and stern demeanor is a delight to the film spectator, for this is the real life prototype of 'Mary Poppins'.
"Saving Mr. Banks" is hardly a publicity ploy for Disney Pictures for director John Lee Hancock reveals some of the realities of the enterprise. The character of P.L. Travers sets the studio on end and is quick to point out the frivolity of the endless dessert trays wheeled in to the musical creators of 'Mary Poppins', Richard and Robert Sherman (Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak) and herself. She also is exasperated by the excessive amounts of stuffed Disney toys propped up to greet her at the Beverly Hilton Hotel when she arrives in Hollywood. Travers is furthermore reserved about setting foot in Disneyland. In essence, the author had exclusive veto rights to any changes to her property and refused to be bulldozed into accepting anything that diminished the integrity of her characters, as shown in planning meetings she insisted be taped during a few weeks in 1961.
The making of "Mary Poppins" is an odyssey that "Saving Mr. Banks"cleverly reveals with formidable style. We learn why Travers was reluctant to allow Disney to make this film and was adamant about relinquishing control of her beloved characters. In the making of the film, her real life father is given justice, appropriately entitled "Saving Mr Banks". For as we see, Mr. Banks of "Mary Poppins" (David Tomlinson) is not the stuffy patriarch that won't allow his children play but one who likes to fly a kite and resents being bogged down by the mechanics of his dreary job.
The making of "Mary Poppins" by Walt Disney Pictures affords P.L. Travers the opportunity to re-experience how important her father was to her and his enduring inspiration to her creativity.