Most of us are familiar with the movie Mary Poppins—the magical nanny who flies in one day and takes two children on whimsical adventures. We remember the great Julie Andrews as the titular nanny, the comical perfection of Dick Van Dyke as jack-of-all-trades Bert, and especially the timeless songs. Saving Mr. Banks tells two stories of Mary Poppins that most people haven’t heard: firstly, the struggle between entertainment titan Walt Disney and the author of the original Mary Poppins books, P.L. Travers, over the rights to make the iconic movie; secondly, it tells the story of P.L. Travers’s troubled childhood and the events that led to the arrival of her own Mary Poppins figure. The result is a film that both tickles our funny bones and tugs at our heartstrings.
The movie begins with P.L. Travers, strapped for money, finally agreeing to travel from her home in London to Burbank, California to meet with Walt Disney. Disney had tried to secure the rights for Mary Poppins for twenty years, and even with her financial status in jeopardy, Travers keeps him on the ropes with a never ending list of stipulations and opinions: final say on the script, doubts on whether it should be a musical, and most staunchly, no animation.
Interwoven with this plotline are flashbacks to Travers’s childhood in Australia. After being fired from his job at a bank, Travers’s father moves the family to rural Allora where he hopes to start anew. Although he is a playful, imaginative, and loving father to Travers and her sisters, the reality of his alcoholism takes a harsh toll on his family, especially on Travers’s mother.
As Disney and his creative team tries to impress Travers with their whimsical take on her book, she finds herself at odds with her own fond memories of her father and what she deems the “cruelty” of the movie’s father figure, Mr. Banks. With help from Disney, Travers begins to reconcile the pain of her past in an effort to see that Mr. Banks—and her own father—can be redeemed.
Tom Hanks takes special care to recreate the specific mannerisms of the iconic Walt Disney, from his meticulously designed mustache to the cough that preceded Disney’s entrance into any room. Emma Thompson imbues P.L. Travers with equal amounts of consternation and vulnerability, taking what could have been an altogether unpleasant character and giving her the humanity that makes her a heroine. Colin Farrell earns both our affection and our sympathy as Travers’s father. B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman round out the cast as brothers Robert and Richard Sherman, who wrote the classic songs featured in Mary Poppins.
Saving Mr. Banks doesn’t just make you want to revisit the classic Mary Poppins: it makes you appreciate it all the more for the passion held by every person involved in its creation. Even if you don’t know Mary Poppins, Saving Mr. Banks is a solid film that gives you an interesting peek behind the scenes of the making of an adaptation as well as a compelling story about the love a daughter has for her father.
Review by: Katie Rivara.