Inspired by true events, Saving Mr. Banks is a film that takes us behind the scenes of how Mary Poppins came to the big screen.
The art of filmmaking is a painstaking process. This is something I’ve learned not just through watching bonus features but reading biographies about classic Hollywood. On paper, there’s nothing inherently wrong with the film. It’s only when you dig deeper into the actual story where the film has its faults. For example, there are scenes in the film featuring Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) but he wasn’t on the lot when those scenes actually took place.
One of the most emotional scenes in the film comes when Walt Disney flies overseas to acquire the film rights. This comes late in the film but it never happened. By the time of her appearance on the studio lot, the film rights were acquired. It was just that the script was subject to P.L. Travers’ (Emma Thompson) approval. If you can put aside these facts, you can certainly enjoy the film. This is easier said than done, of course. Acquiring the film rights was a promise that Walt Disney made to his daughters, Diane and Sharon, in the 1940s. He worked some twenty years to make good on his word.
At a time when Disney films were mostly known for animation, Travers didn’t want to see her books become cartoons. A live-action adaptation was always in the plans for Mary Poppins. However, there was an animation sequence in the film and let’s just say it doesn’t quite sit well with Travers. But again, Travers had final script approval and she wasn’t one to easily budge. At the same time, her books were not selling well in 1961. Upon arrival in Los Angeles, the relationship between Travers and Disney would be testy. That being said, she struck up a relationship with driver Ralph (Paul Giamatti). Ralph is fiction–P.L. did have a driver but Ralph is just a stand-in.
Since the film is working off a premise to acquire the film rights, Disney does everything to make it happen. Whether it’s the storyboards, co-writer Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford), or the Sherman Brothers–Richard (Jason Schwartzman) and Robert (B.J. Novak)–Disney essentially does whatever it takes. But at the end of the day, it isn’t enough especially because of how they depict Mr. Banks in the film. What Disney doesn’t realize at the moment is that Mr. Banks is really P.L.’s father, Travers (Colin Farrell).
But again, it’s the bonding in the third act that seals the deal. She tells Walt the truth about Mr. Banks. Walt searches deep into his own childhood to understand this. Of course, this part of the film is completely fiction. Saving Mr. Banks is not a documentary.
Thompson and Hanks both deliver an incredible performance. The costume design aids the film in staying true to the time period. Meanwhile, I highly encourage checking out The Boys for more information on the Sherman Brothers.
For all of the film’s faults, one of the things I do like about the film is the seamless weaving between past and present. We get a glimpse at P.L.’s childhood–back when her dad was living. Of course, the film stretches the truth a bit when we get to the childhood basis of the popular nanny. The actual basis was her great-aunt, not her mom’s sister.
What’s incredible is how production designer Michael Corenblith is able to capture the studio’s look in the 1960s. Obviously, the lot has evolved in the last sixty years. There isn’t really an exterior backlot in the present day like there was back then. But if you’ve ever stepped foot on the lot, you can immediately feel the magic in the air.
Mary Poppins would also inspire a sequel over 50 years after its theatrical release. Making a sequel during the author’s life was impossible after her experience on the 1964 classic.
All in all, Saving Mr. Banks is a film that pays tribute to the Disney legacy even if the film stretches the truth in storytelling.
DIRECTOR: John Lee Hancock
SCREENWRITERS: Kelly Marcel
CAST: Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Paul Giamatti, Jason Schwartzman, Bradley Whitford, Annie Rose Buckley, Ruth Wilson, B.J. Novak, Rachel Griffiths, Kathy Baker, and Colin Farrell