Saving Mr. Banks’ proves as magical as ‘Mary Poppins’
The heartwarming classic film “Mary Poppins” has entertained generations of children since it was released in 1964. Featuring iconic musical numbers and an Oscar-winning performance from star Julie Andrews, the tale of a magical English nanny helped establish Disney as a legitimate producer of live-action fare and remains one of the studio’s best-loved movies. However, the making of “Mary Poppins” certainly wasn’t the cheery time seen on screen. In fact, behind the scenes there were tests of wills, outrageous demands and two artistic geniuses coming to terms with their own painful pasts – a fascinating story masterfully brought to life in “Saving Mr. Banks.”
Contrary to her fanciful novels, “Mary Poppins” creator P.L. Travers was quite a difficult person to work with, to say the least. From her vitriolic put-downs to her protests against music, animation and even the color red, Travers made it clear that she would rather not see her character in film. It would be easy to play such a woman as an unlikeable witch, but the wonderful Emma Thompson portrays her with a humor and humanity a lesser actress wouldn’t have been able to achieve. Her insults are delivered hilariously, though in reality you wouldn’t want to be on the other end of them. And while she appears cold on the surface, through subtle glances Thompson conveys Travers’s inner sadness and eventual thawing as the movie is put together.
Viewers also receive a more well-rounded depiction of Travers through the series of childhood flashbacks seen throughout “Saving Mr. Banks.” Yes, they sometimes appear too frequently, but witnessing the author’s very close relationship to her whimsical, alcoholic father (Colin Farrell in excellent form) is vital to understanding how Travers grows up to be the person she is and why Mary Poppins is so important to her. Kelly Marcel should be lauded for her well-researched and touching screenplay, while director John Lee Hancock (who’s no stranger to emotional true stories, coming off “The Blind Side”) expertly crafts the film, especially its tear-jerking conclusion.
Seemingly the polar opposite of Travers is Walt Disney, which makes their clashes so entertaining. Tom Hanks fittingly portrays the legendary movie mogul, being in many ways a modern Disney himself. Cynics may point out that since Walt Disney Studios made “Saving Mr. Banks” the version of Disney presented in the film is a more idealistic imagining of the man himself, and that might be somewhat true. But Hanks doesn’t play him as a person without faults, capturing Disney’s showmanship while also giving glimpses of his troubled past and how it causes the story of “Mary Poppins” to resonate with him as much as it does with Travers.
You don’t have to be a “Mary Poppins” aficionado to enjoy “Saving Mr. Banks.” The story behind the Disney classic is as glorious as the film itself, one that just might make you believe in magic again – or in human redemption, at least.
Sean Quinn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.