Movie Review: “Saving Mr. Banks” – A Prelude to the Poppins

Written by Rebecca Mirabelli January 02, 2014

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Whether it is visiting the magical land that brings out the child in anyone, or watching years of influential filmmaking magic, nothing inspires wonder quite like the name “Disney.” In my childhood I’m sure I drove my parents crazy watching my VHS Disney classics over and over again. Even as a youth, and now adult, I enjoyed revisiting my childhood nostalgia by watching some of my favourite Disney movies.

As an adult I have grown to appreciate Disney’s ability to convey very adult themes and morals in a movie generally intended for children. This is one of the reasons it was such a pleasure to watch “Saving Mr. Banks.” “Saving Mr. Banks” is the story of P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson), the author and creator of our beloved Mary Poppins. She reflects on her life and childhood while working with Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) as he attempts to obtain the rights for a film adaptation of “Mary Poppins.” Charming, poignant, and witty, “Saving Mr. Banks” truly captures Disney movie magic, and adds even more meaning to the beloved childhood classic.

“I know what he’s going to do to her. She’ll be cavorting and twinkling.”

“Saving Mr. Banks” has two intertwining plots that come together to explain why Travers is so attached, devoted to, and exhaustingly stubborn about, her version of “Mary Poppins.” With Colin Farrell displaying his softer side in playing Travers’s father, the audience member well-versed in all things Poppins recognizes his influence on the “Mary Poppins” story through his imagination, playfulness, and altruism for his family. Thompson is hilarious in her presentation of Travers’s quirky British mannerisms, and her demands and critiques of Walt Disney and the writers. Condemning animation, the colour red, made-up words, singing, and demanding she have the final say in everything to do with the film, Travers quickly becomes the “Mary Poppins” film Grinch.

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A story about letting go of the past, “Saving Mr. Banks” divulges into Travers’s past to identify why “Mary Poppins” means more than the story of, as Disney states “a woman with a talking umbrella [sent] to save the children.” The more the audience learns of Travers, the more the audience understands that “Mary Poppins” is the story of how Mr. Banks, the children’s father, becomes the central character who needs to be saved.

“Saving Mr. Banks” is also more than just a story about the creation of a classic Disney film. “Saving Mr. Banks” demonstrates and teaches the importance of compromise, the influence of a paternal figure, the ability to forgive, and the importance of keeping your word. Disney stated he hounded Travers for 20 years to obtain the rights to “Mary Poppins.” Inspired by his daughters’ love of the book, and by his refusal to break a promise to his children, Disney is just as eager to obtain the rights as Travers is eager to stall him from obtaining Mary.

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“Saving Mr. Banks” takes us to Disneyland’s The Magic Kingdom, Australia, England, and Hollywood. Similarly, we are taken behind the scenes of how “Mary Poppins” came to life. From sketches, script readings, songwriting, casting, and dancing, we witness just how much of the Mary Poppins we came to know was Disney’s creation, not Travers’s. The character, Mary Poppins, was inspired by real life events when Travers was a young girl, and was a real person. Disney took the novel character and added the song, dance, and Spoonful of Sugar that turned her into a Disney icon. To Travers’s chagrin, the movie concludes with “Mary Poppins” on the big screen, and Travers having to deal with the emotions and trauma of her past and in witnessing the “beautification” of her childhood.

The “So What” Factor

Hanks plays a fantastic Disney; however I find the Disney-figure somewhat unsettling in “Saving Mr. Banks.” Disney is presented as the hero who’s able to coach Travers through her trauma, guiding her to acceptance and forgiveness, all the while keeping his eye on the contract Travers has held hostage in her handbag. Disney is the magic-maker who created the beloved Mickey and the enchanted world of amusement and wonder; however, he’s also the man who hands out pre-signed autographs to distance himself from fans, and he hounds a woman for 20 years because he cannot take ‘no’ for an answer. It’s a beautiful and poignant film; however, “Saving Mr. Banks” also seems to be the story of how Travers inevitably had to give up “Mary Poppins” because it was presented to her as nonnegotiable; Disney, in the end, gets his way although promising Travers she would get hers.

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Overall, it’s a must see. Anyone who has seen “Mary Poppins” and loved it, cherished it, and watched it time and time again, should take an interest in where the story came from. Hilarious, heartwarming, and featuring truly spot-on acting by Thompson, “Saving Mr. Banks” is certainly worth watching.

 My Rating: 8.5/10

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