Saving Mr. Banks is one part a Disney self-promotion machine (and I won’t begrudge them that!) and another part a look into the behind-the-scenes tomfoolery that went into the creation of famous 1964 film, Mary Poppins. Yet there’s another part to all this madness too: the story of a young girl and her relationship with her father and how her upbringing in Australia affected the stories she went on to write.
Naturally, this young girl would become P. L. Travers, the creator of Mary Poppins. It’s a tough balancing act but director John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side) gets it right. Sure, this means that Disney successfully gets to revel in its Disney-ness, but it also offers us an intriguing look into the history of a beloved fictional star.
What makes it work is the smart screenplay and incredible acting from the film’s leads. Emma Thompson is unstoppable as Travers, so much so that you can already see the Oscar in her hands. Her layered portrayal of the cartoon-hating, musical-abhorring English author is impeccable. She’s at odds with Walt Disney himself (brought to life by a sharp Tom Hanks), who made a promise to his kids to bring Mary Poppins to the big screen.
Travers detests Disney’s movies however, so has continuously denied his advances for years until finally relenting. She flies out to oversee the movie’s production – but it has to be on her terms as she owns the rights. Seemingly determined to scuttle the film, at one point she demands that the colour red can’t be used in the picture at all! As Disney tries to grapple with the stubbornly immovable force of nature that is Travers, we come to learn more about the woman herself and her childhood.
This parallel story reveals a great deal about Travers and the origins of her characters. It’s a fascinating thread, in large part thanks to Colin Farrell’s nuanced performance as Travers’ alcoholic but still loving father. Indeed, the role of father figures is one of the core themes in Saving Mr. Banks. What results is a masterfully acted and mildly amusing look behind the curtain, one with broad appeal that, if anything, is likely to get ‘Let’s Go Fly A Kite’ stuck in your head all over again.
Shameless self-promotion at its finest, and acting at its finest too!