Reviews

Saving Mr. Banks (2013)

savingmrbanks

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This was the 2013 film that I was most anticipating to see! It seemed to be a film that would delight the heart of every Disney fanatic, the heart of every film historian, as well as the heart of every person who loved Mary Poppins. It would be the first theatrical film to feature an actor portraying Mr. Walt Disney himself. It was a film that would either become an instant classic or an instant flop!

Without further ado, let’s take a look at Saving Mr. Banks

And remember, SPOILERS AHEAD!

As the film begins, we see P.L. Travers (the author of the Mary Poppins books), played by Emma Thompson, in her house in London, England.

Wow, what a countenance! Anyone with a cold stare like that gives me the creeps!
Wow, what a countenance!

Ok, let me just say that there are few actors whom when you watch them act, you see the character they portray and totally forget about the actor behind the character. One such actress is Emma Thompson in this film! When you watch this film, you don’t see Emma Thompson; you see P.L. Travers! You see P.L. Travers in the way Emma Thompson speaks, in the way she carries herself, in the way she reacts to stimuli in the film, etc. I’ve said it before and I’m saying it again, EMMA THOMPSON WAS ROBBED OF AN ACADEMY AWARD NOMINATION!!!

I'M STILL BLAMING YOU, MERYL!!!!
I’M STILL BLAMING YOU, MERYL!!!!

Anyway, moving on, the year is 1961 and we see Mrs. Travers (she insists on being referred to that way, even though she never married in life, so I’m not sure what the point of “Mrs.” is) discussing a topic with a Mr. Russell, her agent, played by Ronan Vibert. Through their discussion, we learn that Mrs. Travers has been in contact with someone (presumably Walt Disney) for 20 years about having her books turned into a feature film. We also learn that Mrs. Travers has been turning down this person’s offers for the entirety of these 20 years. But when she is invited to come visit the studios in Los Angeles, she reluctantly agrees just so she can personally tell Walt Disney to get off her back. As one can gather from this discussion alone, Mrs. Travers is quite a stubborn and cold woman!

"If I may advise you, Mrs. Travers, it may not be wise to go to Los Angeles just to tell Walt Disney off." "Mr. Russell, whether or not I adhere to your advice, is thoroughly my business alone!"
“If I may advise you, Mrs. Travers, it may not be wise to go to Los Angeles just to tell Walt Disney off.”
“Mr. Russell, whether or not I adhere to your advice, is thoroughly my business alone!”

On a side note, something that occurs often in this film is the use of flashbacks of Mrs. Travers when she was a young girl in Australia in the year 1906. The point of these flashbacks is to draw parallels between her childhood experiences and her current experiences. For example, Mrs. Travers’ plane trip to Los Angeles is paired with an event from her past when she and her family (her dad, mom, and two younger sisters) were moving from one city in Australia to another because her father had acquired a bank position. P.L. Travers’ dad, Travers Goff, is played by Colin Farrell,

I'll never figure out what girls see in him.
I’ll never figure out what girls see in him.

whilst her mom, Margaret, is played by Ruth Wilson, who I swear has one of the most frightening looks on her face at times.

Tell me she doesn't frighten the living daylights out of you!
Tell me she doesn’t frighten the living daylights out of you!

More on that part of the story later. In real-time, Mrs. Travers arrives at the Los Angeles airport and is picked up by a driver awaiting her named Ralph, played by Paul Giamatti.

I wish that one day someone can be awaiting my arrival at an airport with a placard with my name on it.
I wish that one day someone can be awaiting my arrival at an airport with a placard with my name on it.

Ralph is basically a patient man with a bright outlook on life which helps counter Mrs. Travers’ annoyance with everything. She soon arrives at her hotel which is filled with Disney memorabilia (which she quickly discards) and the next day is driven to the Walt Disney Studios by Ralph.

When she arrives, she’s greeted by Don DaGradi, Richard Sherman, and Robert Sherman (aka the Sherman Brothers) played by Bradley Whitford, Jason Schwartzman, and B.J. Novak, respectively.

Sigh...imagine meeting the Sherman Brothers and Don DaGradi in real life! Mrs. Travers didn't know how lucky she was!
Sigh…imagine meeting the Sherman Brothers and Don DaGradi in real life! Mrs. Travers didn’t know how lucky she was!

They welcome her to the studios and introduce themselves as the screenwriter and music men, respectively, of the film, but Mrs. Travers isn’t impressed at all. They want to give her a tour of the studios while she just wants to meet Walt Disney as soon as possible so that she can tell him to “go fly a kite” (see what I did there?) and so that she could head home as soon as possible.

When she reaches Walt’s office, we’re greeted by Tom Hanks with a mustache.

"Oh come now, I think you mean that she's greeted by Walt Disney! I mean, look at all the Oscars behind me!"
“Oh come now, I think you mean that she’s greeted by Walt Disney! I mean, look at all the Oscars behind me!”

I’m sorry! You know how I said earlier that some actors actually portray characters and you start to forget the actors behind the characters. Well, Tom Hanks isn’t one of them. I mean, Tom Hanks isn’t one of them IN THIS FILM. He’s a great actor, but as hard as he tries (and he DOES try his hardest), his performance as Walt Disney is nothing spectacular and just reminds me of Tom Hanks with a mustache.

"Maybe you need a hug. Is that it? Do you need a hug?"
“Maybe you need a hug. Is that it? Do you need a hug?”

Moving on, Mustachioed Tom Hanks Walt Disney then takes Mrs. Travers into his office with him where she instantly starts telling him that he’s wasting his time trying to get the rights from her. But Walt Disney doesn’t give up as this is a film that he promised his daughters that he would make. Even if she signed the rights to him, Mrs. Travers voices a few stipulations that she has: she doesn’t want any animation for the film, she doesn’t want the film to be a musical, etc.

Nevertheless, Walt Disney and his charm manages to pacify Mrs. Travers a bit by telling her that he won’t tarnish a story that he loves and that she will have final say over aspects of the film. This satisfies her temporarily and she agrees to attend script rehearsal sessions with Don DaGradi and the Sherman Brothers.

This is where a good chunk of the film, if not the most important aspects of the film, takes place: the so-called “rehearsal room”. It’s a small room with a table, a piano, and storyboards in which Mrs. Travers, Don DaGradi, and the Sherman Brothers meet and read the script together while voicing their opinions and making corrections…well, it’s more that Mrs. Travers is the only one voicing her opinions and making corrections. She’s so fervently cautious that she insists that all their meetings be recorded on tape. As you can imagine, Don DaGradi and the Sherman Brothers (as well as Walt Disney and everyone else) need to muster all their patience so as they can deal with this woman.

"Mr. DaGradi, what is that button you're pushing?" "Well Mrs. Travers, it's the 'Eject' button, but it only works for the tapes, not for me sadly."
“Mr. DaGradi, what is that button you’re pushing?”
“Well Mrs. Travers, it’s the ‘Eject’ button, but it only works for the tapes, not for me sadly.”

She criticizes the words that the Sherman Brothers make up for her songs, she criticizes the depiction of the Banks’ house, she criticizes the changing of Mrs. Banks into a suffragette, and she even criticizes the mustache that Mr. Banks is supposed to have in the movie! Once, she even sends Robert Sherman out of the room after he gets fed up with her and her incessant nitpicking.

Even Walt Disney bears the brunt of her nitpicking. It’s not enough that she disapproves of Dick Van Dyke to be cast as Bert, that she insists that no romantic allusion be made whatsoever between Mary Poppins and Bert, but she even says that she doesn’t want the color red to be in the film at all as she’s simply “gone off the color”. Walt is shocked at this, but in the end begrudgingly agrees to this ludicrous request. Right now, he’ll do anything to get her to give him the rights.

"Just remember this, Mrs. Travers: Every Disney has his day!"
“Just remember this, Mrs. Travers: Every Disney has his day!”

As the time goes by, we see more flashbacks of Mrs. Travers’ life as a kid. Most of them focus on her father. You see, Travers Goff is a man who loves and is devoted to his wife and daughters, but he has one big problem: alcoholism! The man is addicted to alcohol which causes him to behave irresponsibly at work, yell at his wife, and even injure himself so much so as to make him bedridden and unable to work.

See that, kids? Any kind of addiction is destructive!
See that, kids? Any kind of addiction is destructive!

Unable to deal with this, his wife even tries to commit suicide by drowning herself in the river!

Young P.L. Travers goes in after to rescue her mother...no wonder this movie is rated PG-13!
Young P.L. Travers goes in after to rescue her mother…no wonder this movie is rated PG-13!

Luckily, she regains a hold on herself and stops before committing the act. To deal with all the stress and work, she calls her sister to come be a “nanny” and help her take care of the house, husband, and kids.

Nanny McPhee?!
Reminds me of Nanny McPhee somehow!

In real-time, Mrs. Travers remembers all these events with melancholy etched on her face and it’s clear for us to see that Mrs. Travers considers the “Mr. Banks” character to be that of her father’s and that her “Mary Poppins” character is based primarily on her aunt who has come to save them all, “Mr. Banks”, in particular. She even starts to bond somewhat with Ralph and they kinda sorta become friends…or at least as much friends as Mrs. Travers would allow them to be.

"I understand what you mean. I have a similar problem with my 'love' for an Irene Adler."
“I understand what you mean. I have a similar problem with my ‘love’ for an Irene Adler.”

Even Walt Disney tries to mellow Mrs. Travers’ harshness by inviting her to go with him to Disneyland! MAN, I’M JEALOUS!!!

"Well, maybe if you didn't call me a mustachioed Tom Hanks, then you'd be just as lucky...also it would be helpful if you lived before 1966."
“Well, maybe if you didn’t call me a mustachioed Tom Hanks, then you’d be just as lucky…also it would be helpful if you lived before 1966.”

This trip does mellow her somewhat, but the crux of her mellowness occurs when the Sherman Brothers and Don DaGradi perform the song Let’s Go Fly a Kite for her. She is so happy that Mr. Banks mends the kite at the end of the movie and she’s super impressed with the song that she starts dancing and laughing, much to everyone’s surprise.

Yeah, I'm not so sure this is Mrs. Travers.
Yeah, I’m not so sure this is Mrs. Travers.

Sadly, all good things come to an end when she realizes that Walt Disney plans to have animated penguins in the famous Jolly Holiday sequence. Since it goes against her stipulations, she becomes furious and heads back to London without signing off the rights to Walt.

This depressing turn of events is paralleled with flashbacks showing the deteriorating health of Travers Goff and eventually his untimely death.

See that, kids? Addiction=Destructive! DON'T DO IT!!!
See that, kids? Addiction=Destructive! DON’T DO IT!!!

In real-time, the night after she arrives back home in England, someone arrives at her door.

Sigh...if Walt Disney was at my doorstep. Again Mrs. Travers, you don't know how lucky you were!
Sigh…if Walt Disney was at my doorstep!

She invites him in and Walt tries to convince her one last time to give him the rights. How does he do this? He talks to her and explains himself to her. Walt realizes that Mrs. Travers loved her father so much that she adopted his name as her last name and he tells her about his father and the newspaper deliveries that his father made him and his brother do when they were mere kids. Once she realizes that even Walt Disney had a “Mr. Banks” in his life and that everyone should have a “Mary Poppins” in their life, she finally gives Walt Disney the rights!

Hope you enjoyed the flick!
Hope you enjoyed the flick!

No, we’re not done yet! Cut to 1964, when the film is premiering. Walt Disney is excited about the film, but purposely doesn’t invite Mrs. Travers to the premiere as he feels she’ll just cause trouble with her cold attitude and demands. Nevertheless, Mrs. Travers invites herself to the premiere and reunites with Walt Disney, Ralph, the Sherman Brothers, etc. When they all watch the film during the premiere, Mrs. Travers enjoys herself at times and cries through it at times, not for emotional reasons, but because she’s displeased with certain scenes (the Jolly Holiday one for example)…or so she says.

Oh, Emma Thompson, one day the Academy Awards will apologize for their mistake and give you a belated honorary Academy Award for your performance in this movie!
Oh, Emma Thompson, one day the Academy Awards will apologize for their mistake and give you a belated honorary Academy Award for your performance in this movie!

It’s on that note that the film ends, but Disney fans may want to stay for the credits to see pictures from the actual premiere and production of the film as well as to hear some of the real tape recordings that P.L. Travers made with the Sherman Brothers and Don DaGradi.

And that was Saving Mr. Banks! What is the outcome? This is a masterpiece! This film is just so well-made, so wonderfully directed, and so amazingly acted

"Well....mostly well-acted..." "Oh come on, you definitely need a hug!"
“Well….mostly amazingly-acted…”
“Oh come on, you definitely need a hug!”

that you can’t help but love it! The way that the flashbacks counter/parallel the goings-on in real-time is quite effective and provide us with an insider’s look at what may have caused Mrs. P.L. Travers to become so cold and stubborn.

Granted, many of the things shown in this film weren’t true: the biggest being Walt Disney flying to London to talk with Mrs. Travers. Walt’s too busy to do that; he just called her on the phone because that’s what phones are for, right?

But, we have to remember that all films based on true stories aren’t going to be documentaries; there has to be some level of artistic license given to the filmmakers to make changes as they deem fit and provide the audience with a pleasurable experience! (I don’t even believe that documentaries are ever 100% true!)

On that note, I applaud the necessary changes and decisions that the filmmakers chose to make in this film! It’s so nice to watch a Disney film that deserves an ‘A’ rating from me!

(You can click on the image below for an enlarged version of my rating sheet.)

savingmrbanksrating

So, the final score for this film is 33/35 = 94.29% (A) !

 The next review will be posted on June 2nd.

39 thoughts on “Saving Mr. Banks (2013)

  1. Great review. I adored the movie as well. I only wish more of the story was true, and that it was a happier ending in real life… but I guess that’s why we love the magic of movies! I can’t wait to get my DVD of it so I can watch it again.

  2. I’m so glad you reviewed this! I was very excited/scared for this movie to come out. I knew very much how P.L. Travers hated the adaptation of her book, and I was hesitant to see this when it hit theaters because I somehow knew Disney would change that. However wolves couldn’t keep me away from buying the DVD and I was pleasantly surprised! It’s an interesting movie if just to see the process they went through back then. The flashbacks had me crying my eyes out. I enjoyed her relationship with the limo driver, that was my favorite part of the movie hands down.

    I also agree she was robbed of an Oscar. Seriously. Emma WAS P.L. Travers.

    1. I too was super scared and somewhat jealous when this movie was coming out, but thankfully everything worked out for the best!

      I didn’t cry at all, then again I’m a guy with no sensitivity, lol!

      My favorite part of the movie was when they were singing ‘Let’s Go Fly a Kite’.

      1. An area you differ from Doug Walker, who said it was cheesy and was thankful it didn’t go on too long. You also differ in that he said exactly the same thing about Tom Hanks that you did about Emma Thompson! But yeah that was my favorite part, too.

        I went to see the movie in the theater with my Aunt Marilyn. She was 70 and had grown up loving the Mary Poppins books even if they were out of print by the time Travers was agreeing to the movie deal. And we had read the first novel again a few years ago. Unlike a lot of fans of the books, she had always liked the movie equally well, though she had no memory of the time she had seeing it in the theater, apart from all the new songs there were to sing….. It seemed to have a deep effect on her seeing where a lot of the books had come from (or at least the filmmakers’ ideas) and listening to the tape of P.L. Travers over the credits!

        One question she kept asking me, or if she had curiously forgotten it: Was there ever a scene where we saw Travers and her father trying to fly a kite?

  3. Emma Thompson’s performance was brilliant and she was absolutely robbed of an Oscar nomination! When she laughed, I laughed. When she cried, I cried. And your description of Tom Hanks with a mustache was spot on, lol!

      1. Yeah I don’t think he did a bad job either but I really can’t picture anyone pulling off Walt Disney as a character!

      2. Have you ever seen the TV film, ‘RKO 281’ about the troubled production behind Orson Welle’s ‘Citizen Kane’? There’s a brief scene in which Walt Disney appears and is portrayed by Roger Allam. He was quite bad it 😛 !

      3. Yeah, it’s worth checking out. I saw it recently on Youtube; someone had uploaded it for free. It stars Liev Schreiber as Orson Welles and also stars John Malkovich, James Cromwell, Melanie Griffith, Roy Scheider, and David Suchet (POIROT!!!).

  4. Awesome review! I didn’t know what to expect with this movie, I had hopes as a Disney/Poppins fan, but the film far exceeded my expectations! SOOOO good! And Emma was totally robbed of an Oscar, she was brilliant. You’re bang on with Hanks & his ‘stash. He was just so/so. I thought Colin Farell also did a really nice job. Great movie overall.

  5. Haven’t seen this movie yet, but it want to.
    Great review! I do have a nitpick about your Sherlock Holmes joke though: didn’t Sherlock only admire Adler in the originals? He never really fell in love with her until the Downey version, and even then the only other Holmes to love her is (possibly) the current one, Benedict Cumberbatch. Jeremy Brett wasn’t really the right actor for that joke.

    1. Thanks for the compliment!

      Well, the reason I used that joke is because you’re right: in the original stories and early series (including Jeremy Brett’s series), Sherlock Holmes admires Irene and doesn’t “love” her in the sense that we’d assume it to be. That’s why I put the word “love” in quotation marks.

      I merely meant to say that I don’t believe that P.L. Travers could’ve ever “befriended” anyone, but the closest she could get to “befriending” anyone would be how she felt about Ralph. Similarly, I don’t believe Sherlock could ever “love” a woman, but the closest that he can get to “loving” a woman would be how he feels about Irene Adler.

      Does that make sense?

  6. Another interesting thing is that you mentioned “No wonder the film is PG-13” over the scene where Travers tried to save her suicidal mother, because this was solely an addition by this filmmakers. In reality Travers’ mother apparently told her she was going to the river to drown yourself and just returned by dinner presumably having failed.

  7. I loved this movie and I cried at it, which rarely happens when I go to the movies, lol. I thought Tom Hanks did okay, but Emma Thompson did such an AMAZING job! It’s a real pity she didn’t win an Oscar. 😦 😛

  8. This has quickly become one of my top 10 favorite movies. I loved seeing 2 artists/writers protect and feel a kinship to their work. But more than that I was so moved by the idea of how every person has a moment where childhood is over.

    Then most of spend the rest of our lives resenting whoever gave us that moment and often try to compensate for the loss of our innocence. PL Travers created a new life and spurned whimsy where Walt Disney embraced it.

    For me it was the moment I was bullied by kids and the teachers did nothing. That was my moment and when I saw this movie (and every time since) I bawled like a baby when he tells her to forgive her father. Wow! (and I don’t cry easily in movies)

    Saving Mr Banks and Perks of Being a Wallflower are probably the most impactful experiences I’ve had at the movies in the last 10 years.

      1. Hard for me to say which I liked most but they both would be in my top 10 movies ever. I guess Perks felt like it could have been filmed in my high school. I watched it 3 times in one week. It really got to me. I love when you have those moments in the theater.

  9. I FINALLY got around to seeing ‘Saving Mr Banks’ and thought it was an absolutely charming film and a great companion piece to ‘Mary Poppins’. This is the kind of smart, adult friendly but still accessible film that I wish Disney would produce more often. I mean I enjoy their fantasy blockbusters when they’re good (or at least appeal to my own taste) but these kinds of dramatic stories tend to be a lot more effective. Emma Thompson was incredible as Mrs Travers, same with Paul Giamatti as Ralph the driver and Colin Farrell gave one of the best films of his career! When it got dark or emotionally powerful, it was very organic and smartly orchestrated. Even the ending which showed her being okay with parts of ‘Mary Poppins’ didn’t bother me that much because the film pretty much ends before we see her cry at the end of the premier which had a standing ovation. It’s really hard to say what could have been changed, but it just looked like she was reacting positively to most of the film. But with the ending aside, I think it’s a very thoughtful and pleasant film!!

    By the way, I will say that while I immensely enjoyed Tom Hanks’ portrayal of Walt Disney, it was tricky to remove that familiar, raspier voiced version of Walt from memory. But in all honesty I think Hanks actually succeeded in capturing Walt’s spirit rather than necessarily provide an imitation of the man himself. Who would you have picked if you were the casting director? (One friend of mine suggested J.K. Simmons as Walt Disney.)

  10. I’ve recently been thinking that someday, I’d like to make a docudrama about the founding of Sesame Workshop (formerly Children’s Television Workshop) and the development of its flagship program, SESAME STREET, in rather the same vein as this film.

      1. Well, I envision such a film being a co-production between Sesame Workshop (it is, after all, an independent organization) and some other studio (preferably Disney, though, considering that I hope to join that studio to direct some animated features, and since their flair for storytelling is unrivaled; and also because I hold both entities in such high regard).

    1. Sorry about that truncated comment.

      What I was saying is, I think that what I appreciate most about SAVING MR. BANKS is that it not only avoids sugarcoating the rather sordid history of the making of MARY POPPINS, but it also allows us a glimpse into events from Travers’ life that informed the original MARY POPPINS books. To use Timon’s words from the opening of THE LION KING 1 1/2, it takes viewers “behind the scenes while revealing an intimate look at the story within the story.”

  11. If I may state a personal opinion here in regards to the actors, I think that Tom Hanks pulls off the role of Walt Disney (who, according to one source I’ve read, is actually his distant cousin) very well. The only members of the cast who I feel don’t really fit into their parts that much are Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak as the Sherman Brothers; mainly, this has to do with the noticeable lack of a resemblance. (I’ve seen enough archival footage of the Sherman Brothers to attest to this.)

    1. By all means, please state personal opinions!

      I do agree that Novak and Schwartzman are kinda off as the Sherman Brothers, but I was able to see their performances. Tom Hanks, I just couldn’t un-see Tom with a mustache. I didn’t see Walt at all!

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