Just for fun I thought I would share my thoughts on a recent live action Disney film, Saving Mr Banks. For some reason I waited to see the movie even though it stars my favorite living actress Emma Thompson and an actor I really like in Tom Hanks, and it is about the making of one of my favorite movies Mary Poppins. I guess sometimes you don’t want the illusion to be spoiled by a behind the scenes look, so I waited until it came out on DVD and watched it. I was blown away. It rapidly ascended the ranks to a top 10 favorite movie ever list.
Saving Mr Banks is directed by John Lee Hancock from a script by Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith that had been floating around Hollywood for a long time. Tom Hanks plays Walt Disney and Emma Thompson is PL Travers, the author of Mary Poppins. We also see Paul Giamatti in a wonderful, subtle performance as a the chauffeur Collin Farrel as Travers’ father, and Jason Schwartzman, Bradley Whitford and BJ Novak as the Sherman Brothers and team. Everyone is great in this film.
The story centers around Travers, an insufferable curmudgeon,, and Disney, the master of whimsey, as Travers is forced to relinquish the rights to her beloved Mary Poppins. She hates the idea of everything Disney stands for. He is childish is and stupid and he wants to turn her masterpiece into a joke.
They do not pull any punches with Travers. She is a jerk to the 9th degree and normally this wouldn’t work so well but with Emma Thompson’s warmth and her back-story along the way I totally bought it. I was actually glad they didn’t soften her edges but had the guts to make a lead character so unlikable. It made her change and the ending so profound.
Hanks is great as Disney. I have no idea if it captures the man but even little details like the fact he had a nervous twitch from constantly smoking is integrated into the performance. He seems like someone who would be almost impossible to resist, which is a perfect contrast to Thompson’s Travers.
So like I said Travers is incredibly resistant to the idea of her beloved Mary Poppins (never just Mary) dancing about in one of his cartoons. Why? Why? Well, we learn about her father who was a whimsical man, much like Disney. I won’t give it all away but he disappoints Travers, wounds her and she is never the same. In fact, she becomes an entirely new person, accent and all. Collin Farrell is excellent in the flashback scenes as her father.
An aunt comes into Travers life at a moment of crisis and she is inherently practical which is what she needed to get by. So Travers became practical and created a character that could rescue people in the same way her aunt had rescued her. That’s why it meant so much to her.
But it is not a morbid or solemn film, much of it is spent on the mechanics of working over the script with the producer and the Sherman Brothers. Travers has opinions on everything from the house, to whether Mr Banks has a beard. She is absolutely against using music or animation (we all know how she came out on that debate!). She doesn’t like Dick van Dyke as a choice (hard to believe but true). She even at one point criticizes one of the Sherman brothers and says he earned his limp in the war.
At least to me this banter and back and forth never got too heavy or drawn out because it was interrupted with the scenes from Travers life. The pacing works perfectly. A lot of that also goes to Thomas Newman who wrote a fabulous score- one of the best I’ve heard in many years.
So great performances, beautiful music and cinematography, engaging premise- all part of why Saving Mr Banks is special but there was something else that made it a top 10 all time favorite. At the end Tom Hanks flies to London and talks to PL about forgiveness and it deeply moved me. It captures the profound idea that every person has a moment where childhood is over, and most of us spend the rest of our lives either resenting who gave us that moment or trying to recreate the innocence we lost. In the case of PL Travers she rejected the whimsey of her father to deal with the pain, in Disney’s case he embraced it so they are the ultimate contrast. I bawl whenever I see that scene. It profoundly moved me.
I have my moment where childhood was done. I wasn’t the most whimsical kid to start with, far from it. But one day at the apex of being bullied I was thrown into the drinking fountain with a line of children and my dress was put over my head so everyone could see my underwear. All of this within a teacher’s observation. I remember looking at her and all the kids and realizing they weren’t going to help me. I don’t resent those kids/teachers but I do wish I could have that moment back. Maybe that’s why I like animation and children’s movies so much? Characters like Ariel and Belle gave me confidence to stand up for myself and find my own version of happiness.
I know Saving Mr Banks isn’t a perfect movie but that scene in London was perfect to me. I also love the behind the scenes of how a movie is conceptualized and developed. It’s interesting that we never see a set or backdrop or anything like that. It is all at the script, storyboard stage. I loved the actors who played the Sherman Brothers. They are just trying to do their jobs and make their employer happy, and Travers is making it very tough on them.
I also loved Paul Giamatti as the chauffeur. He is subtle and their friendship felt authentic. I’m surprised a big name like Giamatti would take such a small part but I’m glad he did.
It is also true the film is fan fiction and PL Travers hated the movie and wouldn’t give any rights to anything after the experience. She cries at the premiere and you feel for her. For her work and all that it meant to her. It is not a tidy explanation no matter how technically inaccurate it might be.
So, I loved Saving Mr Banks. I loved performances, music, story, cinematography, and the message of forgiveness. If you haven’t seen it I highly recommend you do!
Content Grade- A- Overall Grade- A+