Saving Mr. Banks: A Step Back in Time with a Spoonful of Movie Magic
By Erika Jenko (@erikajenko)
Saving Mr. Banks is a film based on the story of how Mary Poppins made it to the big screen. After Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) had made a promise to his daughters that he would turn the book Mary Poppins into a film, Disney must confront author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) for the rights to adapt her book. The film takes places 20 years into Disney’s initial attempt at gaining film rights, and follows the process of Travers traveling to Walt Disney Studios and going through the initial development process with the creative team to bring the script from the pages to the screen.
As an absolute Disney geek, I was curious to see how the film would piece together a plot that would keep us guessing even though we all know thatPoppins did in fact make it to the screen. Rather than telling a story about a powerful studio head and a stubborn writer and their attempt at meeting somewhere in the middle, screenwriters Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith broke up the story by including flashbacks of Traver’s troubled childhood with her father (Colin Farrell). A choice that ultimately drove the plot forward as the audience could begin to sympathize with Travers and understand her desire to see the character of Mr. Banks (who was based off of her father) displayed in a positive light.
When the cast list was originally released for the film, I was immediately thrilled to see Thompson as Travers. Thompson is so polished in every role she plays, but her performance in Banks is one of her best performances to date. Travers is a strong-headed writer who comes from a difficult childhood in Australia dealing with a father who she idolized and ultimately watched him struggle with alcoholism. Her ‘no-nonsense’ personality that deflects every Mickey Mouse stuffed animal and gesture that Disney throws her way in an attempt to woo her, is completely justified, and Thompson manages to bring humor to the story by being so matter of fact. The true magic of Thompson’s performance comes from the unexpected moments when she attempts to admit to the creative team that Mary Poppins is based on her childhood, and she does everything she can to hold back her emotions on the matter. Although I’m a huge Tom Hanks fan, I was a little tentative at seeing him play such an iconic role. As I watched the original trailer, my initial reaction was that he doesn’t look anything like Walt. The genius of having Hanks portray the legendary Disney, is the fact that Hanks landed every mannerism and more importantly, the essence of Walt. The minute he appears on-screen, you can’t help but smile. He is Disney. For a film that was made by Disney and also about Disney, there was nothing sugar-coated about the way that Walt was portrayed. Hanks gave an honest and fair portrayal of a man who was adored by the public, yet how his past and his dedication to his family layers in different aspects of the choices that he makes when it comes to storytelling.
Special shout-out to the adorable writing team of Robert and Richard Sherman, played by B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman. Their scenes are special in the sense that they take audiences into the rehearsal process for Poppins, including the creation of multiple famous songs. One of the sweetest moments of the film revolves around the creation of one of Walt’s favorite songs, “Feed the Birds.”
It would be far too easy to say that Saving Mr. Banks was out to simply promote the release of the 50th Anniversary Mary Poppins Blu-Ray, or say that the film wasn’t entirely based on true events. The battle to make Mary Poppins was always a tough one due to creative differences, but at the end of the day, a Disney movie has to have a happy ending. Here is where I stand in defense of the film. Yes, I wanted to run out to the store and buy a Mary Poppins DVD after the film, and yes, the film’s release date lined up brilliantly with the DVD release. But that’s just being a marketing genius, so I can’t be upset about that. It was brave of Walt Disney Pictures to release a film portraying the head of the company as a man who made a film that didn’t originally line up with the wishes of the writer. The beauty of the film, was that it shows the flaws of both main characters and we can understand why every decision was made. Maybe there were historical events that were left out or brushed over. In the past, Disney has been known for re-making animated classics that told the happier and shinier versions of Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson fairy tales. Instead of creating an animated film about a girl with two evil step-sisters who eventually get their eyes poked out by crows (The original concept for Cinderella), Disney painted the image of a glossier and more family-friendly princess that people would cherish for generations. Similarly, the same went for Saving Mr. Banks. There was the perfect level of Disney magic that made you swoon when the characters visited Disneyland, or when Travers discovers the Mickey stuffed animal in her hotel room. If I’ve learned anything from Disney’s legacy, sometimes, you gotta allow yourself a little magic. In the film, Disney said it best himself.
Highly enjoyable film that Disney buffs will fall in love with, but the performances alone will steal the hearts of all.