Saving Mr. Banks

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

In London in 1961, financially struggling author Pamela “P. L.” Travers (Emma Thompson) reluctantly agrees to travel to Los Angeles to meet with Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) at the urging of her agent Diarmuid Russell (Ronan Vibert). Disney has been courting Travers for 20 years, seeking to acquire the film rights to her Mary Poppins stories, on account of his daughters’ request to make a film based on the character. Travers, however, has been extremely hesitant toward letting Disney bring her creation to the screen because he is known primarily as a producer of animated films, which Travers openly disdains.

Her youth in Allora, Queensland in 1906 is depicted through flashbacks, and is shown to be the inspiration for much of Mary Poppins. Travers was very close to her handsome and charismatic father Travers Robert Goff (Colin Farrell), who fought a losing battle against alcoholism.

Upon her arrival in Los Angeles, Travers is disgusted by what she feels is the city’s unreality, as well as by the naïve optimism and intrusive friendliness of its inhabitants, personified by her assigned limo driver, Ralph (Paul Giamatti).

At the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, Travers begins collaborating with the creative team assigned to develop Mary Poppins for the screen, screenwriter Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford), and music composers Richard and Robert Sherman (Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak respectively). She finds their presumptions and casual manners highly improper. She meets Disney in person, and he is jocular and familiar from the start, but she remains unfriendly.

Travers’ working relationship with the creative team is difficult from the outset, with her insistence that Mary Poppins is the enemy of sentiment and whimsy. Disney and his associates are puzzled by Travers’ disdain for fantasy, given the fantastical nature of the Mary Poppins story, as well as Travers’ own richly imaginative childhood existence. Travers has particular trouble with the team’s depiction of George Banks, head of the household in which Mary Poppins is employed as nanny. Travers describes Banks’ characterization as completely off-base and leaves the room distraught. The team begins to grasp how deeply personal the Mary Poppins stories are to Travers, and how many of the work’s characters are directly inspired by Travers’ own past.

Travers’ collaboration with the team continues, although she is increasingly disengaged as painful memories from her past numb her in the present. Seeking to find out what’s troubling her, Disney suggests the two of them go to Disneyland. The visit to Disneyland, along with Travers’ developing friendship with her limo driver, the creative team’s revisions to the character of George Banks, and the insertion of a new song to close the film, help to soften Travers. Her imagination begins to reawaken, and she engages enthusiastically with the creative team.

This progress is upended, however, when Travers realizes that an animation sequence is planned for the film. Travers has been adamant from the start that any animated sequences would be unacceptable. She confronts and denounces a protesting Disney, angrily declaring that she will not sign over the film rights and returns to London. Disney discovers that Travers is writing under a pen name. Her real name is Helen Goff, and she’s actually Australian, not British. Equipped with new insight, he departs for London on the next flight, determined to salvage the film. Appearing unexpectedly at Travers’ residence, Disney opens up—describing his own less-than-ideal childhood, while stressing the healing value of his art—and urges her to shed her deeply-rooted disappointment with the world. Travers relents and grants him the film rights.

Three years later, in 1964, Mary Poppins is nearing its world premiere at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. Travers has not been invited because Disney fears that she will give the film negative publicity. Goaded by her agent, Travers returns to Los Angeles, showing up uninvited in Walt Disney’s office, and finagles an invitation to the premiere. She watches Mary Poppins initially with scorn, reacting with particular dismay to the animated sequence. She slowly warms to the film, however, and is ultimately surprised to find herself overcome by emotion, touched by the depiction of George Banks’ redemption, which clearly possesses a powerful personal significance for her.

During the end credits, a surviving recording of one of the sessions between Travers, the Sherman Brothers and DaGradi plays out.

REVIEW:

Mary Poppins is one the most beloved films in the Disney cannon, but how much do we really know about the making of this great film? Did you know that it was based on a book? I did, but I wasn’t aware there was an entire series of them. Saving Mr. Banks takes us on a journey during the adaptation from book to film, and all the bumps on the road along the way.

What is this about?

When Walt Disney sets his sights on obtaining the rights to the children’s classic “Mary Poppins,” he reaches out to the book’s author, P.L. Travers, only to find that she proves a tough nut to crack.

What did I like?

History lesson. As much of a Disney freak I am, admittedly, I know very little about what went on in the making of this film. Obviously, liberties were taken with the events and whatnot, but to know that it took Disney 20 years to secure the rights to Mary Poppins and then had to deal with this uptight, grumpy British lady who doesn’t believe in happiness, making her the antithesis to Disney, himself. Seeing her oppose every idea for this film they come up with and stand toe to toe against Walt Disney was intriguing, as well. I can’t help but wonder how much of this was real and how much was fabricated.

Characters. Tom Hanks is a dead ringer for Walt Disney, or as close you’re going to without defrosting him from that hyperbaric chamber that holds him under Disneyworld. HA! Seriously, though, Hanks captures everything about Walt that we can see on video clips that we can see of the man, the myth, the legend. One cannot help but be impressed. Also worth mention is Emma Thompson as P.L. Travers, the crotchety old and bitter author who is stingy with the rights to her character. It is kind of ironic that the woman who brought Nanny McPhee, a character some have said to be Mary Poppins’ sister…among other rumors, to the big screen is playing the creator of Mary Poppins, and she does so with such emotional range and a dark comedic element that helps to make this an enjoyable flick.

Driving Miss Travers. How often have we seen a film where the chauffeur becomes as interesting a character as the main cast? Not very often, at least that I can think of. Well, Paul Giamatti’s character becomes one of the best and most interesting in the film. Not only because he is a happy-go-lucky fellow who looks on the bright side of life, but also because he becomes a friend to “Mrs. Mrs.” and has somewhat of a tragic family life, regarding his disabled child. With such gradual character development, and Giamatti’s natural likability, this guy becomes almost as likable as Hanks’ Walt Disney.

What didn’t I like?

Flashbacks. As far as the story goes, I can understand the flashbacks and their purpose. However, the random jumping back and forth without some sort of setup didn’t make much sense to me. I’m not saying we needed some sort of Family Guy cutaway, necessarily, but just a better setup would have been nice. Also, this is the best I’ve seen Colin Firth is quite some time. I guess since he’s done nothing but star in crappy remakes lately, his talent has been forgotten. Shame it gets buried since it isn’t the major plot.

Cameo. I was a little disappointed that, for all the behind the scenes stuff we saw and learned, we never learned anything about the filming. Part of this might be because no one can capture Dick Van Dyke and especially Julie Andrews’ characteristics. There was an actress who was cast as Andrews but all she had to do was get all dolled up to stand around and smile for the camera in the premiere scene.

Put the brakes on. Going into the final act, there is a time jump which I felt might have been better served to not be there. I say this because it sort of made the film feel like they were in a rush to get the scene showing Emma Thompson’s reaction to the film (and the whole frustration to not being invited to the premiere) in and wrap things up. Mind you, there is nothing wrong with the way they chose to do it, especially since the film is already nearing the 2 hr mark. I just felt that they could have spent a few more minutes on the timeline, rather than bulldozing through to the end.

The best word I can think of to describe Saving Mr. Banks is charming. This comedy/drama biopic gives us laughs, a history lesson, great performances, and tugs on the heartstrings. All the kinds of things that critics tend to look for when they nominate films for awards, but this didn’t make the cut. You can argue whether or not it deserved nominations, though. Do I recommend this film? Yes, especially if you like films like A League of Their Own. If that sounds like something up your alley and you are a fan of Mary Poppins, you have to check this out!

5 out of 5 stars

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2 Responses to “Saving Mr. Banks”

  1. […] it was released and I took a trip to Disneyworld. Sunday, I watched something else Disney related, Saving Mr. Banks. Also, one of my very good friends is taking a trip to Disneyworld in the coming weeks. Not really […]

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