Directed by: John Lee Hancock
Everyone knows Mary Poppins, the Disney film, which stars Julie Andrews and Dick van Dyke, but the book series it was based on, by P. L. Travers, is not as popular, at least not anymore. Saving Mr. Banks tells the story behind how the books became the much-loved film that we all know, with Tom Hanks starring as Walt Disney himself, and Emma Thompson as British author P. L. Travers.
In 1961, after twenty years of refusing Walt Disney the rights to make a movie based on her books, P. L. Travers finally take a trip to Los Angeles to see what they’ve come up with before making a final decision. Going through the script, and the development of the film, brings up a lot of memories for Travers, of her childhood spent in Queensland, Australia, with her alcoholic father (Colin Farrell), and the aunt (Rachel Griffiths) who comes to stay with them, who was the inspiration for the famous nanny.
There is something a little peculiar about Disney (the company, not the man) making a film about themselves, however I suppose if anyone were to do it, it should be them. Tom Hanks is perfect casting for Walt, he’s funny and chirpy, the kind of man who would demand to be on first name terms with everyone in the office, but it doesn’t come as a surprise that he smokes in private. He’s works perfectly as the over-friendly American, in contrast to Emma Thompson’s very-British P. L. Travers. I can only assume Thompson used some basis for her portrayal of the author, because while her performance was very good, her British-ness very often comes across as being outright rude. It may just be the contrast with an otherwise entirely American group of characters (for the LA parts of the film), or the fact that it is a film made by Americans. Or completely unintentional. As the flashbacks show, Travers had a lot to deal with in her childhood, so I wouldn’t blame her for having some issues that stayed with her into adulthood.
The rest of the cast is made up of fairly recognisable faces, though their level of fame varies. Paul Giamatti plays Travers’ driver while she is in Los Angeles. As with everyone else, it takes her a while to warm to him, but once she does their relationship is quite sweet. Jason Schwartzman plays Richard, one half of the Sherman Brothers, who composed and wrote the lyrics to the songs for Mary Poppins, the other half, Robert, played by B. J. Novak. Young Australian actress, Annie Buckley brilliantly plays P. L. Travers in her childhood, in 1907 Australia. Colin Farrell plays Travers’ father, who quite convincingly changes during the length of the film from a loving father, to an embarrassing drunk. Ruth Wilson plays her mother, Margaret, and Rachel Griffiths plays Margaret’s sister, Ellie, the woman who inspired the character of Mary Poppins, though only actually features for a very short amount of time.
Thomas Newman has scored the film, cleverly using parts of music recognizable from the Mary Poppins songs, weaved into original music composed for this film. We don’t get to see much of 1960s LA, but we do briefly visit “the happiest place on Earth”, which just makes me sad that I haven’t been to the real one. It’s also quite disappointing the only ride they go on is the carousel. Early 1900s Queensland looks beautiful though, a wonderful backdrop for Travers’ childhood memories, some of which are quite emotionally intense.
Saving Mr. Banks is the kind of film where the high points make any other faults forgivable when you walk out of the cinema. There’s a good balance of charm and humour, and emotional moments, though a few parts don’t have enough of either. It all does has a whole lot of heart, which is what you want from something Disney. Both Thompson and Hanks make the film worth seeing, and I hope people can get over the issues I had with the character of P. L. Travers. Even if you don’t have to love Mary Poppins, Saving Mr. Banks will still be one of the most joyous films you’ll see for a while.
Saving Mr. Banks releases on November 29th in the UK, and December 20th in the US.