Mary Poppins is a film that’s stood the test of time. Many children grow up on the film and find themselves singing along to the words and connecting with the Banks children. Adults, too, connect with the film and with the deeper meanings hidden within it. However, what most people don’t know is the real story behind the film . More than that, there’s an alarming number of people who don’t know that the film is based on a set of novels. Walt Disney spent 20 years trying to get the rights to make the film and the process was a daunting one. As everyone knows, the film eventually got made. What many people didn’t know, was how.
Mary Poppins, a popular grouping of books, was written by the stern and judgmental author, P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson). Her novels touched the hearts of millions, including one potential businessman who wanted to bring Mary Poppins to life. That man, was none other than Mr. Walt Disney (Tom Hanks). Making a promise to his daughters twenty years previously, Walt Disney was determined to get the rights to Mary Poppins in the 60’s. Upon brining the reluctant Miss Travers to Disneyland, Mr. Disney learned that there was more to her than she was leading on, which would explain why she wasn’t ready to depart with her beloved Mary Poppins.
It’s clear that Travers had her vision of how the film should be and she doesn’t want any of the fluff that comes with a Disney film, which didn’t bode well for screenwriter Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford). This means, that she’s shooting down the songs of the very brilliant lyricist brothers, Richard & Robert Sherman ( Jason Schwartzman & B.J. Novak). To them, it seemed as if Miss Travers was just trying to waste their time with changing nearly everything and recording every conversation. To Miss Travers, her past was finding her again and her childhood memories of her wonderful father Travers Goff (Colin Farrell). To her, Mary Poppins is real and she helped fix the bad in her family. The only way the film was thing to get made, was if everyone could come to an understanding and comprise on details that really mattered.
I grew up watching Mary Poppins and I’d like to thank my parents for showing me that wonderful film. I really feel for those children and adults who have yet to see it. That film will forever be a classic, but I don’t think that I can say the same for Saving Mr. Banks, because there are a lot of moving pieces throughout this film. There’s a moving and bittersweet story in the film, but then there’s also a lot of extra fluff and flashbacks that should either have been cut or fused. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the film, but it didn’t leave me wowed.
Emma Thompson IS this movie. From frail start, to emotional finish, she’s the heart and soul of everything. No doubt is Thompson a talented actresses, but this film really highlights how great she is. Her character is a mixed bag of intelligent remarks and quite a bit of emotional baggage. I despised her in the beginning, but as her character expanded and became better developed, I couldn’t help but worry about her and understand where she was coming from. Thompson immerses herself in the role and it’s evident that she had an amazing time playing the part. She the could convey the emotional aspects in a heartbeat and her love for her father and Mary Poppins is a beautiful thing.
Constantly overshadowed by Thompson, is Tom Hanks. Already giving an Oscar-worthy performance earlier this year with Captain Phillips, you’d think that as Walt Disney, Hanks would secure yet another possible nomination. He’s pretty good in the role, but he doesn’t really standout among a smaller supporting cast that really does an amazing job. Collin Farrell has been overlooked in this film and his lovable, but also troubled, role as a father who never wants his kids to stop dreaming is beautiful. His love for his children and how they view the world creates some of the film’s best scenes. Also in a smaller and under-recognized role, is Paul Giamatti as P.L. Travers personal chauffeur. He brings humor, charm, and sentimentality exactly when the film needs it. He and Farrell, I’d say, are better than Hanks.
The last big contributions to the film come from Novak, Schwartzman, and the music they create together. We all know and love the songs from Mary Poppins and it was so much fun to see them come to life. The two brothers bicker and edit their work as they have to play ball with Travers, which adds to the humor and frustration of the film. They do the songs live for Travers and the fun they have doing it makes the film so much more enjoyable. The live singing and tunes, mixed with a score from Thomas Newman, bring Saving Mr. Banks alive every now and then.
Director John Lee Hancock brought us The Blind Side that, while good, suffered from a weak script and muddled sequences. Likewise, Saving Mr. Banks suffers from the same exact issues. The first hour of the film jumps back-and-forth between the present and flashbacks to her childhood that Travers had. I get that the flashbacks need to be there and that they help you understand why Travers is reluctant, but there are just so many of them and they never seem to stop. This stop-and-go game with flashbacks really screws up the pace of the film and adds a lot to smaller sequences. Aside from Travers, almost every other character gets stuck with mediocre dialog that’s instantly forgettable.
Despite a rocky first hour, the film does pick up towards the end and concludes in an emotional fashion. Thompson really sells her performance and Hanks uses the last 15 minutes of the film to solidify how great he can be (that would be the second time he’s done that this year). If anything, Saving Mr. Banks is a great reminder that Mary Poppins should be watched at least a couple of times a year and I think that kind of sums up this film. It’s pretty good, but you can’t help but want more out of a better film, like Mary Poppins. The acting is wonderful and the music plays well with anyone watching, and half of the story is really great. The film could have benefited from less flashbacks and a more cohesive story, but it’s a bittersweet and lovely time for the most part. Still, it fails to delve deep into the “dark” side of Disney and doesn’t stay in your memory long.
Saving Mr. Banks Trailer