Saving Mr. Banks is an unexpectedly powerful and heartwarming film served with just the right amount of sugar. The film focuses on the development of the 1964 Disney film, Mary Poppins. It also concentrates on Walt Disney’s (Tom Hanks) attempt to obtain the screen rights to P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) novels – something he spent 20 years pursuing for his daughter’s.
The majority of the film takes place in the two weeks that Travers visits Los Angeles to negotiate with Disney. While Travers prefers to keep the film grounded in reality, Disney has other ideas for the film. She works with songwriting brothers Richard and Robert Sherman (Jason Schwartzman, B.J. Novak) and screenwriter Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford). She constantly disagrees with the songs they write and specific parts of the screenplay – no red in the film, no animation, and no pears.
The film is sprinkled with flashbacks to Travers’ past in which we learn why Mary Poppins is so personal to her. Through Travers memories we meet Travers Robert Goff (Colin Farrell) – who does a wonderful job playing the struggling, yet loving father of P.L. Travers. She looks up to her father, but also watches as he struggles with constant job changes and alcohol abuse. He serves as the basis for the character of George Banks in Mary Poppins.
While Travers doesn’t initially agree with the portrayal of George Banks, she is eventually won over once the creative team modifies Mr. Banks and adds a new song (Let’s Go Fly a Kite). She signs the rights to the novels once Disney gives her a talk about his difficult childhood. The film ends in 1964 after Travers attends the world premiere of Mary Poppins – which she isn’t invited to due to Disney’s fear that she will give the film negative publicity. However, she shows up anyways and watches the film. Initially, she is in dismay, but is eventually overwhelmed by emotion near the end of the film due to George Bank’s redemption.
Emma Thompson plays the reluctant and stern P.L. Travers wonderfully. After Captain Phillips, Tom Hanks delivers another great performance as Walt Disney. While he does a great job, this film ultimately belongs to Emma Thompson. While Disney is an important part of the story, this is the story of P.L. Travers not Walt Disney. Throughout the film there are many references to Mary Poppins for all those who love the film. If you watch Mary Poppins after watching Saving Mr. Banks, you’ll certainly see it in a different light.
This film was an unexpected surprise and it was a delight to watch. The performances from the main and supporting casts were wonderful and the story was enticing till the end. Director John Lee Hancock does a fantastic job balancing humor and drama. The film was charming, witty, emotional, and overall satisfying.