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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.
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!!!
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!
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,
whilst her mom, Margaret, is played by Ruth Wilson, who I swear has one of the most frightening looks on her face at times.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Unable to deal with this, his wife even tries to commit suicide by drowning herself in the river!
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.
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.
Even Walt Disney tries to mellow Mrs. Travers’ harshness by inviting her to go with him to Disneyland! MAN, I’M JEALOUS!!!
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.
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.
In real-time, the night after she arrives back home in England, someone arrives at her door.
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!
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.
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
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.)
So, the final score for this film is 33/35 = 94.29% (A) !
The next review will be posted on June 2nd.