What’s to happen all happened before – ★★★
Saving Mr. Banks is a look at the arduous task Walt Disney had in convincing P.L.Travers to give him the rights to her beloved character Mary Poppins. A prim and proper no nonsense woman Mrs. Travers, much like Mary Poppins, has her way of doing things and will not be moved. Over the course of the film we learn that the real inspiration for the book was her own childhood.
The money has all dried up and as she is adamant she won’t write any more books, Travers must seriously consider allowing Walt to adapt her story into a film. Having been hounded for nearly twenty years, she finally relents and agrees to go California to help do a script treatment. She has unprecedented control with final say and rules with an iron fist holding the script and song writers to ransom having not even signed over the rights to the book. Determined not to have her work turned into some silly twinkly Disney cartoon, she fights tooth and nail against every suggestion for songs and animations.
The film flashes back and forth between a family living in Australia who have to move to a remote town where their father has a new job working in a bank. Sound familiar? Well it should as this is P.L. Travers or should we say Helen Goff or perhaps even Jane Banks. It becomes clear quite quickly that Travers’ father was the love of her life and she was heartbroken by the fact she couldn’t save him from himself. To put it comically her father had “taken to the sup”, but more tragically this means he was unable to keep a steady job and had to move from town to town bringing his family in tow.
The title is therefore about how in fact Mary Poppins was not merely a nanny for the children, but sent to make the father appreciate his wonderful children and all they have to offer. Travers is forced to relive this agony as she grapples with the studio and their attempts to soften and dilute down her story. Through the help of the songwriting capabilities of the Sherman brothers and Don DaGradi her cold heart eventually melts and she is one with the Disney empire. Well not quite but it is as close as they could get, she detested the animation contained within the film and never allowed Disney to adapt any of her other material no matter how much he tried.
Thompson is great as Travers, she is the embodiment of a stiff-lipped, matron type who is unable to suffer fools and determined to get her way. People who long for the days when Britain was still great and Thatcher and her ilk ruled the roost will no doubt have much fondness for the portrayal seen here but for the rest of us it is quite hard to warm to her cold exterior even while over the course of the film we learn her story and realise her loneliness and insecurities. Hanks is fine too as the man behind the mouse but his portrayal is a tad too rosy cheeked, however one must not forget it is Disney putting out the picture.
The supporting cast add much needed relief, Jason Schwartzman, B.J. Novak and Bradley Whitford are superb as the brow beaten writing staff at the mercy of Travers. This is possibly Colin Farrell’s best performance in years and Ruth Wilson is tremendous portraying a mother at her wit’s end.
The film is packed full of schmaltz which at times is laid on a tad too thickly, especially in the case of Paul Giamatti’s character of the chauffeur. Lots of nods and in jokes are contained for Mary Poppins fans which is a nice touch. It would be pretty pointless to see Saving Mr. Banks if you have never seen Mary Poppins and ultimately you leave the screen reminded what a marvelous film it is and in need of another viewing.
At its best Saving Mr. Banks is a truthful and heartfelt look at the impact our parents have on us, while at its worst merely an addendum to one of the greatest films ever made.
Released across Ireland on November 29th 2013