The story of how it came to exist is as whimsical, touching, and heartwarming as Mary Poppins herself.
Mary Poppins is a timeless Disney film and even if you have never seen it you are familiar with the songs and the characters. It has become a part of our culture and movie history. Yet what is intriguing to know is that it almost never happened; at least as told by the new film SAVING MR. BANKS. The story of how it came to exist is as whimsical, touching, and heartwarming as Mary Poppins herself.
The film takes place in 1961 and finds Mr. Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) trying to woo a reluctant P.L Travers (Emma Thompson) into giving him the rights to make a film out of her beloved Mary Poppins books. She wants nothing to do with Hollywood or the silly films that Walt puts out. She is a cold and often bitter woman so Disney has his work cut out for him. As the movie progresses we get flashbacks in to the young life of Travers and discover why she is so protective of the story and the people in it. It is through the process that she finds some healing and the world gets an iconic motion picture.
This was a fun movie to watch in spite of some of the more dramatic and somber moments. Emma Thompson is fabulous and makes the film better than it might be otherwise. Travers is very blunt and adamant about how things are to be. She doesn’t buy into the world of Disney and isn’t swayed by all the magical surroundings. Thompson has the ability to be snarky and at times rude but with a genuine heart. You can tell she has closed herself off to the world and you feel for her character. In fact her arrogance is almost humorous in the way she deals with Walt and his staff.
The supporting cast, including Hanks, is strong and they build a wonderful troupe for Thompson to feed off of. Though Walt Disney is a very important factor in the movie I think that the part could have been played as well by most actors. Hanks gives it a familiar face and there is one speech near the end that he adds his signature warmth to. Other memorable moments come from Paul Giamatti as the driver hired to cart Travers around. Paul has a warm countenance about him and he shines in these roles as strongly as when he is playing a more hardened individual. The relationship between his character and Travers is one of the better parts of the film.
Fans of Mary Poppins will delight in getting a behind the scenes glimpse at how the Sherman Brothers (B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman) brought the songs to life, and some of the background of the characters. I am not exactly sure how authentic the meetings are compared to true life but the enjoyment is the same. The times when Travers is with the Disney studio people give a much needed balance to the flashback elements of her life. They work in tandem to tell the story but without the humor it would be a bit of a buzz kill.
SAVING MR. BANKS is rated PG-13 for thematic elements including some unsettling images. Most of these come in the form of the backstory and the history of Travers’ father (Colin Farrell). There is certainly nothing offensive or crude about the film and I would say it is safe for those 12 and up. That said I would also strongly state that the film isn’t really made for kids. It is more a story of life and moving from past hurts. The humor comes in witty remarks and personal conflict that would be lost on kids. It is an emotional film that is strongly acted and nicely written. Certainly a good date night film if you want a break for the R rated Oscar battle. I give it 3.5 out of 5 dusty carpet bags. Thompson is worth seeing and the story is certainly intriguing.