It isn’t really necessary to have seen Mary Poppins in order to get what’s going on in Saving Mr. Banks. If you haven’t seen the 1964 hit, though, I strongly doubt the existence of your childhood. And that’s just the point. Disney is cashing in on its own history, feeding its adult audience the behind the scenes version of a story they worshipped as kids. I would only have a problem with this scheme if it were an uninteresting story. Thankfully, it’s not. Saving Mr. Banks is sweet, strong, dramatic, and of course – magical. There was not a dry eye in the theatre or on the screen by the end of the film.
Mrs. Travers (Emma Thompson) is like all die-hard book lovers – she hates the idea of Hollywood destroying her favourite characters. It is hard, however, to ignore Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) when he pesters you for 20 years to hand over the rights to the book. Reluctantly, Travers travels to L.A. (a place that smells of “chlorine and sweat”) to appease Disney and convince his team that no matter how creative they are, Mary Poppins cannot exist on screen. Between shots of rehearsal rooms and theme parks, the film also tells the story of Travers’ childhood in Australia. Her memories are the most enchanting part of the film, capturing an exotic homeland, a playful father, and a story which gradually pieces together Travers’ inspiration for her famous novel. It is essentially Mary Poppins and the Banks’ family in the dusty outback.
Out of the two stories told in this film (the movie-making and the childhood), the childhood half was my favourite. Colin Ferrell plays the father of young ‘Mrs. Travers’, and he is 100% the most charming father a little girl could ask for. His imagination is limitless, and he sees every made-up game his daughter plays as absolute truth. Travers’ childhood has more magic than Walt Disney could ever dream of, but it’s also shadowed by something a child couldn’t really understand. We as adults, however, recognize the parents’ symptoms, and brace ourselves for an unhappy conclusion. Colin Ferrell is everything in this role. From ups to downs he is seamless and he is real.
Saving Mr. Banks in its entirety also plays out in an incredibly smooth fashion. There is no jolt between the transitions of Travers’ childhood and ‘present-day’ Disney negotiations. In fact neither story is presented as more important than the other, and they both help you understand the other half a little better. Emma Thompson is very stiff as older Travers, but that’s all part of her character. There is quite a bit of Britain vs. America (tea/coffee, rain/sun) but it’s more for comedy’s sake (and opposition) than anything else. How badly do you want to see stiff, straight, English Mrs. Travers sit on a Merry-Go-Round with Walt Disney?
As with most things in the film, Hanks’ portrayal of Disney is more than just a grin and a moustache. There are so many layers and such wonderful symbolism that you could analyse Saving Mr. Banks for hours. The characters aren’t completely lovable, they certainly aren’t perfect, and everyone’s hiding a little something. Saving Mr. Banks is beautiful, imaginative, conflicted, and tragic. Grab a psychologist, grab an English Major, and go see this 8.5/10.