Have you ever wondered how the beloved children’s film Mary Poppins was made? Well, the BBC- and Disney-produced Saving Mr. Banks depicts just that, for the most part.
From that description, Saving Mr. Banks may sound like a boring historical drama that dwells smugly on how Disney’s most successful film came to be, but once the film started, I could tell that there was much more brewing beneath the surface.
Mary Poppins was originally based on a series of books written by our protagonist, P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson). To make the Mary Poppins film, Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) had to acquire the rights from Travers, but she didn’t make it easy for Disney or his team. Presented in parallel with this plot is the story of Travers’ bleak childhood in Australia; it’s a sincere coming-of-age tale that helps the audience empathize with Travers and understand why she was so hesitant to give her story away.
The performances in this star-studded film are absolutely brilliant, with Thompson taking the lead as a truly broken woman not ready to let go of her past. At first, Travers seems insensitive and distant, but over the course of the film, Thompson successfully opens up her character and reveals her insecurities and fears in a way that I believe that no other actress could have done.
Hanks also delivers a stellar performance as the legendary Walt Disney by doing what he does best: making his character relatable to the audience. I didn’t see Walt Disney, creator of a production empire. I saw Walt Disney, a man who had promised his children 20 years prior that he would one day make a film adaptation of a book that he believed could give people hope.
Lastly, I wanted to mention Colin Farrell’s performance as Travers Robert Goff, P.L. Travers’ father. He has definitely not received as much acclaim as I believe he should—his performance as a father unable to live in the real world and support his family carries the alternate plot of the film. It’s absolutely fascinating to see how the characters and songs in Mary Poppins came to be, and supporting characters Jason Schwartzman, Bradley Whitford, and B.J. Novak portray these events in a way that’s wholly entertaining and full of heart.
This film has two drastically different moods; the first is a lighthearted, funny tone in the first plot, when Disney is trying to acquire the rights to the novels, and the second is a sombre look at Travers’ childhood. These contrasts were more prominent because the film moved back and forth between the two in an erratic manner. The connections between the plots need to be drawn by the watcher as quickly as possible throughout the juxtaposition of scenes of laughter and sadness.
The real P.L. Travers didn’t like the Mary Poppins film, but this wasn’t reflected in Saving Mr. Banks. However, creative licence needs to be taken to make a film really hit home with its audience, and director John Lee Hancock did just that. Without this detail, the film wouldn’t have its amazing ending, and one of Thompson’s best scenes in the film wouldn’t be there for us to see.
This film was definitely more emotionally taxing than I expected, but Disney has done it again. Saving Mr. Banks will pull at your heartstrings with the background of one of the most universally loved children’s movies of all time. MMMM