“Mary Poppins” has been a beloved film for decades after its release in 1964 and was a popular book series long before that. Focusing on the adaptation and the battle between the author and the filmmakers during the process, “Saving Mr. Banks” shows the first stage of bringing “Mary Poppins” to film. A family film pushing Travers’ dark childhood reality, “Saving Mr. Banks” glorifies Disney as he saves Mrs. Travers.
Pamela L. Travers (Emma Thompson) faces the world with a pessimistic and cranky perspective, surprising for the creator of the magical “Mary Poppins” tales. Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) tries to use his charm and sparkling studios to woo Mrs. Travers into permitting him the rights to the film adaptation of her character, but she demands a perfect adaptation, that is, an adaptation to her liking that fits her vision (including avoiding the use of the color red). Hostile with everyone from her driver (Paul Giamatti) to the songwriters, the Sherman Brothers (Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak), to a stuffed Mickey Mouse toy, Mrs. Travers makes no friends. Throughout the film, however, her memories of the relationship between her as a child and her father show that the Banks family is based on her family and her need to represent her father (Colin Farrell) as more than just a drunk banker. Her need for perfection and critical demands stem from honor to her cherished father.
Starring two of the most likeable stars of film, Thompson and Hanks, “Saving Mr. Banks” is hard not to like. Though the film exposes the dark flaws of the people involved (Walt Disney smokes, Mrs. Travers’ father is an alcoholic, her mother is depressed, and Mrs. Travers is especially mean), shows suicide contemplation, and doesn’t hide a death, “Saving Mr. Banks” is a warm family film highlighting the appreciation of fathers. For those expecting more information on the woman that inspired Mary Poppins, you will be disappointed because the emphasis (as the title suggests) is on Mr. Banks, inspired by P.L. Travers’ father, and her inability to forget him. Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks are both charming despite Thompson’s very negative character. Thompson is especially terrific as Mrs. Travers defends the honor of her father and the memory of her childhood by complaining that Disney’s team teaches children that magic will happily solve all of their problems, a point that gets to the core of her scarred soul. As two creators of beloved characters, both Disney and Travers had difficult childhoods that you can’t help but sympathize and even love them for.
A family film with some grit, “Saving Mr. Banks” is comparable to “Finding Neverland” of 2004. Director John Lee Hancock has returned with another warm, sentimental film after his much loved “The Blind Side.” Much of the supporting characters feel more scripted than natural in their roles, but the emotion of the film reigns over its flaws. It concludes with the idea that it’s a dark, difficult world we live in but with imagination and love, one can enjoy life.
Rating for “Saving Mr. Banks:” B
For more information on this film or to view its trailer, click here.
“Saving Mr. Banks” is playing across Columbus, including at Gateway and Movie Tavern. For showtimes, click here.