“Saving Mr. Banks” is directed by John Lee Hancock and stars Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, and Collin Farrell.
“Saving Mr. Banks” tells the true story behind the production of “Mary Poppins,” the iconic book adapted for the screen by Walt Disney and co. Written by P.L. Travers, it took Disney 20 years to finally obtain the rights to make the picture in 1961, which is where our film begins.
Emma Thompson plays author P.L. Travers. Hurting for cash in London, she finally agrees to fly out to Los Angeles and sit down with Walt Disney himself to discuss the adaptation of her beloved story. What follows throughout the entire film is jumping between time, as we switch back and forth between Travers’ own upbringing and the present events. It is learned that Mary Poppins is more than a tale spun by the imagination. It is Travers’ own life, her way of battling her demons. Collin Farrell plays her father during the childhood sequences, and powerfully I might add. Farrell is a flawed man; one who at first seems like a picture perfect father, later to be revealed as an alcoholic. The beauty in the performance is you never lose sympathy with this character despite his addiction. It is definitely a high point for Farrell’s career. He captures a man torn between himself and family life marvelously. He wants to be the best father he can, but he cannot win his own battle with booze. As Travers witnesses her family crumble, it becomes clearer just where the idea of Mary Poppins comes from.
Back in present time, Travers is treated like royalty in Los Angeles. She is chauffeured by Paul Giamatii’s limo driver, a sweet and humble Disney employee. Her arrival at a luxury Beverly Hills hotel is welcomed by numerous Disney merchandise and goods, a pleasant touch. Upon arriving at Disney studios, she meets the men behind the project, Don DaGradi and the Sherman brothers. It is here where Thompson’s performance as the disgruntled author really shines. She is wholly disapproving, cranky, and nitpicky. Nothing anyone can do regarding her precious material is sufficient. Thompson masters all of this. Of course, as the film rolls along, we learn just why it is this project means so much to her. It adds even more layers to the performance, because the viewer really is left wondering why this woman is so bitter to begin with until we see exactly why. It then becomes fully understandble, to the point of maybe even approving of her behavior. Of course, this is again a testament to the acting skills of Thompson.
When she meets with Disney, he does his best to please her every request and need. Mary Poppins also is very special for Disney. It is his daughters’ favorite story, and he promised them he would do whatever it took to bring the story to life. Hanks effectively captures the gentle kindness and child inside of Disney. It isn’t just a man behind an empire trying to add to his castle. This is a man with a genuine love for the story and the affect it has on kids and adults everywhere, himself included. The chemistry and crackle between Thompson and Hanks is wonderful. There is a scene that screams the magic of Disney when Hanks brings Thompson to Disneyland itself, hoping it will awaken her gentle side.
As Travers battles with her ups and downs as the production rolls along, a snag is hit. Upon returning to London, it would seem all is doomed. But Walt Disney makes sure this isn’t the case. In a magnificent scene between Hanks and Thompson, Disney reveals his own troubled past that led to his spectacular life; unlocking Travers own secrets. Travers ultimately signs the rights over, and the film is made and released in 1964. The film ends at the premiere in California, as an emotional Travers soaks in this entire happening. The final sequence of her arriving at the theater and observing her story alive are nothing short of heart-wrenching.
This is an excellent film, superbly acted and efficiently written with seamless direction. It is a story of pain and connectedness, triumphed in the end by closure and happiness. It is a story of the human soul at its core, love, the dreams and desires within us all; surrounded by the magic of not only Mary Poppins, Walt Disney and his vision, but life and humanity itself.
Rating: 4 stars