Saving Mr. Banks is the “practically perfect in every way” film about how Walt Disney charmed the curmudgeonly PL Travers into granting the rights to her children’s book about a Flying Nanny with a talking umbrella.
Taking place over a two-week period in Los Angeles and intercut with moments from PL Travers’ childhood upbringing in rural Queensland, Australia, Director John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side) uses the two stories to display the relationship between art and catharsis, family and forgiveness.
After 20 years of trying, Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) is finally able to get PL Travers (Emma Thompson) –or “Pamela”, as Walt puts it — on a plane and out to Hollywood in the 1960s for a two-week creative presentation and review of the budding production of Mary Poppins. Disney, along with his team of music and lyricists Richard and Robert Sherman (Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak) and screenwriter Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford) attempt to woo Mrs. Travers into signing over the rights with costume sketches, and all of the classic Mary Poppins songs.
***[WARNING SPOILERS AHEAD]***
Why Mrs. Travers holds the Mary Poppins character with such a firm grip is revealed through the flashback scenes from her childhood. It is her father, expertly played Collin Farrell, who teaches young PL Travers (nicknamed “Ginty”) to make-believe and dream. Unfortunately, it is his endless wonder and free-spirit that inhibits him from keeping a job at the bank and later his sobriety. Ginty, incapable of saving her father, and her mother (who at this point is completely numb to the world around her) is rescued by Aunt Ellie, portrayed in an all-too-brief appearance by Rachel Griffiths. With a carpet bag in-tow and all the recognizable catch-phrases, it quickly becomes apparent who PL Travers modeled Mary Poppins after. For her, Mary Poppins represents a reconciliation with her father that she was incapable of as a child.
The greatest success of this film comes from the stellar performances of its cast. Emma Thompson drives the story as the stubborn, opinionated, and dream-crushing PL Travers. However, the level of sensitivity and vulnerability that Thompson brings to the character keeps you by her side for the duration of the film, pining and rooting for that ultimate breakthrough. Equally marvelous is Tom Hanks as the first-ever film incarnation of Walt Disney. Hanks does a fine job of bringing to life the country bumpkin with a twinkle in his eye. However, the real standout is Collin Farrell as PL Travers’ father whose charm explodes onscreen in his love for his daughter. The arch of this character throughout the story is the most interesting to watch. Paul Giamatti also has a small, but very significant and moving role in the film as PL Travers’ driver while she is in Los Angeles and, arguably, shares one of more touching moments of the film with her. Another highlight of the film is the inclusion of nearly all the now famous songs from the original Mary Poppins combined with a magnificent score from Thomas Newman (American Beauty, Wall-E).
From floating amongst the clouds to the tune of Chim Chim Cher-ee, to catching the many (and I do mean many) Mary Poppins references sprinkled throughout the film, then ending with a premiere at Grauman’s Chinese Theater (complete with a circa 1960s Mickey Mouse!), it certainly makes the “job a game” for Disney and Poppins fans alike.