Simply put, Saving Mr. Banks (2013) tells the story of how a tragic event during childhood can transform into a creative outlet. Coping with something unpleasant by creating a fictional and wondrous place to which one can escape, a mechanism with which many writers, artists, and musicians can relate, acts as the foundation of the film. After twenty years of battling for the movie rights to Mary Poppins (1934), Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) finally gets author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) to travel from England to Hollywood in order to coax her into approving the script for the movie adaptation of her novel. Since audiences already know the outcome of the film, assuming one has always believed that a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down and that a sweep is as lucky as lucky can be, the film utilizes an extremely talented cast, the story of P.L. Travers’ past and a delightful soundtrack to keep viewers hooked.
From the moment the film begins, Saving Mr. Banks sucks the viewer into a nostalgic state from which he or she does not escape until the last credit rolls. The film opens with a beautiful music box-like rendition of the beloved Mary Poppins (1963) classic “Chim Chim Cher-ee” eliciting memories of Julie Andrews, the streets of London and the magic of Disney. Throughout the movie, the audience watches the scriptwriters and composers work on writing the music for Mary Poppins, during which the audience hears a few other familiar songs from the Disney classic, like “A Spoonful of Sugar” and “Let’s Fly a Kite.” Watching them write the movie adds another layer of aesthetic pleasure to the film. The audience feels like part of the process, which proves to be quite the mystifying sensation.
The film juxtaposes flashbacks, which show P.L. Travers as a hopeful, imaginative and loving little girl, with the present, in which Travers has become stubborn and mean. Showing the events of her past reveal the reasoning for her drastic character change as well as her unflinching closeness to the characters in her novel. Seeing the two contrasting phases of Travers side by side creates an intense sympathy for her; seeing her as a child puts the audience in her shoes, it makes us want to re-discover our imagination.
Emma Thompson plays P.L. Travers, and she makes her character absolutely believable. Her exquisite way of speaking mixed with utter rudeness makes her endearingly unpleasant. She seems cold and impossible to please, but Thompson’s enticing portrayal of the character makes her irresistible. Tom Hanks gives an incredible performance as well. He plays Walt Disney in a way that express both Disney’s cunning and his tenderness. Hanks and Thompson both deliver captivating performances, so much so that one even forgets that he or she already knows the outcome of the film. Colin Farrell, playing Travers Goff (the father of P.L. Travers), does surprisingly well. He commands the audience’s attention almost as much as Hanks and Thompson. His inarguable charm makes the inner turmoil of P.L. Travers a believable struggle and the character of Travers Goff likeable, though flawed. Sprinkled into the well-cast film, one finds B.J. Novak, something any fan of “The Office” can appreciate.
At the risk of sounding cliché, Saving Mr. Banks is a must-see.
Review by Alice Carson