Who doesn’t like the beloved Disney classic Mary Poppins? Well, other than P.L. Travers, I don’t know. This is Saving Mr. Banks!
Pamela “P.L.” Travers (played by Emma Thompson) has been rejecting to give the film rights of her beloved Mary Poppins books to Walt Disney for 20 years, as she is quite cynical about Disney-style. Walt (played by Tom Hanks) simply wants to fulfil a 20-year promise to his daughters to adapt their favourite books onto the big screen, and uses every ounce of his charm to convince her to sign over the rights. At her request, he has her involved in pre-production with screenwriter Don DaGrati (played by Bradley Whitford) and the Sherman Bros (played by Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak respectively). In a series of flashbacks, we delve into P.L. Travers’ childhood in Australia and learn about the influences for her book, and especially the influence of her father Travers Groff (played by Colin Farrell) on her book and her own life.
I will say that I liked this movie, although there are a few things which kinda prevent me from loving it. Don’t get me wrong: it’s a very well-made movie, and if you’re a fan of Mary Poppins and/or a fan of Walt Disney, you’re going to really love what you see. It’s a really good film. Just on a personal level, there were just some things which kinda bothered me.
Easily, the stand-out performance was Emma Thompson, who just melted into her role! Even though she’s playing a character who’s very firm and kind of cold at times, we’re able to understand this character on various levels, and really care for her. Honestly, I think she’s one of the most multi-layered characters I’ve seen in a Disney film, and Emma Thompson portrays her spot-on! Tom Hanks does bring in Walt’s charm on screen, and succeeds in making us feel like he’s the guy everyone wants to have as an uncle. And the scenes between Walt and P.L. Travers on screen gave us some of the best scenes in the film: it’s like a love-hate relationship going on. Walt loves her books, but he gets stressed and impatient around her. And Pamela, whether she sees Walt as a nice guy or not, is very suspicious around him and doesn’t immediately give in to his charm. It’s just great screen chemistry there!
The other scenes in the film when Travers interacts with the Sherman Bros and DaGrati are also great! I love listening to Travers pick on every single detail she doesn’t like on the film, from the music to the colour of the freaking house! It’s fun because fans of Mary Poppins can listen to her reaction to the songs they listen to today, and it’s also funny to see her treat these guys like kids as if she were a school teacher. She even asks Robert Sherman to move outside when he speaks against her! That’s hilarious! I also love how she interacts with her chauffeur Ralph, played by Paul Giamatti. These are some of the best scenes of the film, as we have such a great time with their interactions, as well as having a look behind the scenes of Mary Poppins.
The film isn’t much about the making of Mary Poppins than it is a character study of the novelist. Normally in these kinds of movies, they tend to keep a balance between the making of the film and a character study, such as last year’s Hithcock about the making of Psycho and a study of Alfred Hitchcock. Here, this is just the pre-production, and also delving into Pamela’s past. The advertising of this film concealed the fact that it was much more of an adult film than it was a family picture, even if it is about the making of Mary Poppins. It deals with really mature themes, especially the theme of parenthood, and we see why Pamela’s books were so personal to her. I guess that’s why this was rated PG-13.
Strangely enough, my least favourite moments was when we delved into Pamela’s childhood, which is odd, because they do make the film work, and add an extra layer to her character. Colin Farrell does actually do a great job as the father who’s so detached from reality that he’s unprepared for the challenges of real life, and struggles with his alcoholism to deal with it. Maybe I’m not a fan of seeing parent issues, or maybe it’s really hard to watch a child having to deal with an alcoholic dad, but… I was having so much fun with the making of Mary Poppins! The scene where Walt hears his favourite song for the first time, “Feed the Birds”. That was great! I wanted more scenes like that! I wanted to have more fun! Maybe the film was meant to contrast the light-heartedness that Disney films bring, with the harshness brought by reality. After all, another reason Pamela didn’t want the film to be produced was the fear of it being too “light-hearted and whimsical” and not grounded enough (at least I think that was what she was thinking). Personally, the film didn’t feel balanced enough, because the harsh moments in the film were a bit TOO harsh for me. That could depend on the person, though.
Something that also took me off-guard was the ending, where Pamela reacts to the final product at the premiere. If you know what happened in real life, they don’t really show it at the end. They just show her not liking the film, and then see her crying during the scenes which remind her of her father. To be completely honest, I found that a bit out of character. I’m sure being reminded of her father would take a lot on her, but I think she’d be much more distracted with how the film represented her work. And it also left me a bit confused at the end of the movie, instead of being left with a more satisfied reaction.
There’s also this one thing which got me a little nitpicky. As most people know, Walt was a heavy smoker and smoked pretty much all the time. We have a scene where Walt turns off a cigarette and claims that he doesn’t like smoking in front of others, which… I mean, it is a Disney movie after all, but Walt DID freaking smoke! He smoked in front of everybody! If the film doesn’t wanna show Walt not smoking, that’s fine, but to show him turn off a cigarette and say that he doesn’t like smoking in front of people, that’s a bit… eh, I dunno. It kinda bothered me a bit. But that’s just a nitpick.
Now this is just me, but I also noticed a bit of a commentary of Americanisation in this film. Neither Walt or Pamela are shown to be the bad guy, as they both have their own reasons for doing what they do, but part of the reason Pamela doesn’t trust Walt Disney is partly because she kinda sees him as a greedy businessman. Walt just wants to entertain people and make them happy, but ironically because he is so economically powerful, and the fact that he follows capitalist ideals, that there are people who call him an “evil businessman” even to this day (which I totally disagree with). And this is during the time after America has outgrown Britain economically and culturally. The only way to save Pamela’s books from being forgotten is to have it adapted into a Disney film, but Pamela doesn’t like the idea of her project being Disneyfied, or “Americanised” in a way. She even has a problem with BEING in America. With all those thing I mentioned, I felt there was a bit of a commentary on consumerism and Americanisation in this film. I really liked what they did there. And something not usually shown in “films about making films” is having an author not liking the end product of their film, even though this does happen a lot. I guess you could argue that the film has a bit of a debate about taking liberties with source materials, and when it’s right and when it’s wrong. I think the film has stated that it’s ultimately depends on the intent of the film.
So that’s my review! Saving Mr. Banks is a satisfying watch, and a very good film. While some things prevented me from personally loving it, I’m pretty sure other people, especially the fans of Mary Poppins, will love this film more than I do. The casting is great, the characters are likeable, the film is beautiful to look at, and it overall has a real fun and charm to it while dealing with some heavy issues. Maybe the more mature scenes will be a bit too intense for some people, but I guess that depends on the person. Most people didn’t mind. I don’t know what else to say about the film, except for… Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious! 😀