Film Review: Saving Mr Banks
I was very lucky to get a preview ticket for the latest Disney blockbuster, Saving Mr Banks. So on Monday evening, off I trotted to investigate the film that tells the tale of the long and arduous journey that was the making of Walt Disney’s Mary Poppins.
Mary Poppins began life between the pages of P.L Travers’ books. The stories have become children’s favourites around the world, and P.L Travers (played by Emma Thompson) has become a well-known (and now broke) author. And a rather unhelpful author at that. After twenty years of pursuing her for the rights to the story, Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) finally gets her to agree to come to Los Angeles on the understanding that she will have final say on the film.
But Travers doesn’t want a musical. Or animation. Or Dick Van Dyke.
In fact, she’s not a fan of what they’ve done to her Mary Poppins or the Banks family at all.
But why is Travers so cantankerous? Why is she so set against Mary Poppins the film?
In a series of flashbacks to her childhood in Australia, we get to meet Mrs Travers’ dad (played by Colin Farrell). But don’t get your hopes up – this isn’t going to explain everything in one, neat scene. No, this trickles throughout the film as we switch between Australia and LA, between the daddy’s girl and the contrary and furious woman Travers has become, who sets herself against the Sherman brothers (Jason Schwartzman and B.J Novak), and screenwriter Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford).
Emma Thompson is fantastic as the bitter, stubborn Travers, and Tom Hanks is a bubbling, warm Disney. Their scenes together are impeccable and hilarious. In fact, the whole cast make an entertaining, witty and heart-strings-tugging ensemble.
I always forget how good Tom Hanks is, until I see him in a film; and his portrayal of Disney is perfect. In an interview, he mentioned that he didn’t want to read any of the negative things about Disney, and instead only read stuff from people who were the man’s friends and admirers – as, he explained, the film is not about Disney’s political or racial views, but in fact about Mary Poppins.
And it is indeed. Mary Poppins in the central character throughout all of this – always in the background; hovering over the rehearsal room, standing on the Australian porch, sitting beside Travers as she takes the car journey to and from the hotel. But she never comes to the foreground – instead that is lit up by the rest of the cast, by their quick and subtle performances.
Schwartzman and Novak are electric as the Sherman brothers, and Whitford as DaGradi is the comic wit whose insights cut through the most.
As for historical accuracy… that’s debatable. Travers really was notoriously difficult to work with, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Disney really was that lovely and chivalrous to her (after all, he wanted the rights to Mary Poppins). But as for the redemption at the end? There isn’t really any sort of indication that this ever happened – even though she did turn up to the premiere (I’m not sure about the crying however).
It’s an entertaining story; a sharply-written script and first-rate actors. It wasn’t just me chuckling in the cinema screen. It’s not something that I would have necessarily gone to watch (one for a DVD-and-pyjamas day perhaps), but I was pleased to see it on the big screen nonetheless. It was pure delight to hear the all the Mary Poppins favourites – Feed the Birds, A Spoonful of Sugar and Let’s Go Fly a Kite. It was even better to sit in the smug knowledge of how the film did turn out, and compare it to the plan Travers had.
But did I really enjoy the film? There were moments of cinematic genius – touching scenes that made you smile and feel sad and feel hope and pain. Then there were the twee moments. These were more cringey than forgivable. It felt like those moments stole from the golden ones, but I left the cinema feeling uplifted and with that familiar Disney-film-fuzzy. And that’s the feeling that’ going to last.
Will you be going to see Saving Mr Banks?