Director: John Lee Hancock
Cast: Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Colin Farrell, Paul Giamatti, Jason Schwartzman, Bradley Whitford, Annie Rose Buckley, Ruth Wilson, B.J. Novak, Rachel Griffiths, Kathy Baker
RunTime: 2 hrs 5mins
Released By: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Opening Day: 27 February 2014
Synopsis: Two-time Academy Award®–winner Emma Thompson and fellow double Oscar®-winner Tom Hanks topline Disney’s “Saving Mr. Banks,” inspired by the extraordinary, untold backstory of how Disney’s classic “Mary Poppins” made it to the screen. When Walt Disney’s daughters begged him to make a movie of their favorite book, P.L. Travers’ “Mary Poppins,” he made them a promise—one that he didn’t realize would take 20 years to keep. In his quest to obtain the rights, Walt comes up against a curmudgeonly, uncompromising writer who has absolutely no intention of letting her beloved magical nanny get mauled by the Hollywood machine. But, as the books stop selling and money grows short, Travers reluctantly agrees to go to Los Angeles to hear Disney’s plans for the adaptation. For those two short weeks in 1961, Walt Disney pulls out all the stops. Armed with imaginative storyboards and chirpy songs from the talented Sherman brothers, Walt launches an all-out onslaught on P.L. Travers, but the prickly author doesn’t budge. He soon begins to watch helplessly as Travers becomes increasingly immovable and the rights begin to move further away from his grasp. It is only when he reaches into his own childhood that Walt discovers the truth about the ghosts that haunt her, and together they set Mary Poppins free to ultimately make one of the most endearing films in cinematic history.
Based on the true story of how Walt Disney managed to obtain the rights to adapt P.L. Travers’ Mary Poppins into a movie, Saving Mr Banks is watchable and entertaining even for those with no background knowledge of Mary Poppins.
At the heart of it, Saving Mr Banks is really a story about a woman, P.L. Travers (played by the ever-reliable Emma Thompson) moving past the stiff and strong persona she’s learnt to adopt as she comes to terms and accepts the reality of painful childhood memories. In the hands of a lesser actor, Travers’ acceptance of the chirpy songs, in the film adaptation of the books that she penned and had great personal emotions invested in, would be made a lot less believable given its somewhat abrupt development.
The fleshing out of Travers’ personality and the reason why the Mary Poppins series is so dear to her is aided by the flashbacks of Travers’ childhood. Here the casting director has done a terrific job of casting Annie Rose Buckley in the role of young Travers. Buckley’s subtle and layered performance, as a young Travers who is forced to mature as the father she idolizes starts to show his very human vulnerabilities and flaws, makes audiences sympathetic to the adult Travers even when she is being difficult and unreasonable.
The scenes of Travers’ childhood and youth, rather than the scenes of the Disney folks’ interactions with her, are the ones that will stay with you. One scene, where the young Travers wades into the waters after her mother who is attempting suicide and manages to pull her mother back from the brink of death with the pleading “Mother, it’s time to go home”, is particularly haunting for it shows a scared child forced to put on a brave front to prevent her world from falling apart. Such scenes make it difficult for one not to feel sympathetic towards Travers.
While the movie provides a developed backstory for Travers and allows the audience to better understand the woman and her motivations, it does so at the expense of the audiences’ understanding of the other characters. Scriptwriter Don DaGradi (played by Bradley Whitford) and music composers Richard and Robert Sherman (played by Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak respectively) seem to be placed there solely for the purpose of being a foil to Travers, allowing audiences to see just how terribly disagreeable Travers is.
Travers’ designated driver, Ralph (played by Paul Giamatti), appears to be a token character added to show that the adult Travers is still capable of development emotional attachment to people despite her disagreeable nature. The only one who manages to get away with a filmsy backstory is Walt Disney (played by Tom Hanks who does a commendable job of bringing to life Disney’s folksy mannerisms) and that’s because of his fame (seriously, you must pretty much live under a rock if you have no idea who Walt Disney is).
In the hands of a less able cast, this movie would have become a plodding drama. Thankfully, the casting was well done although it is a pity as to how the director and script fails to fully utilize them.
(A fairly entertaining though somewhat formulaic movie; just don’t go in expecting this to be an informative film about the page to screen adaptation of Mary Poppins)
Review by Katrina Tee