So it was, really, a bit of a Disney film fest in our house this Easter weekend, because as well as Frozen we’d been sent the DVD/Blu-ray of Saving Mr. Banks to review. And this one I ended up watching on my own.
I should probably start by saying that neither I nor any of my family – and we’re all Disney fans – have ever really cared for Mary Poppins. Not enough animation, too many odd characters, and far too much Dick Van Dyke. Of course we know the songs inside out but the film was never really a big hit in this house.
But with a cast including Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks and Colin Farrell I was intrigued by Saving Mr. Banks.
It’s the story of P. L. Travers, who wrote the Mary Poppins books, and what happened when Walt Disney tried to persuade her to agree to let him and his studio executives turn her beloved books into a film. The story focuses on her trip to LA, where she became heavily involved with the script; but it’s interspersed with flashbacks to her childhood in Australia, where her father, Travers (played by Colin Farrell), whom she idolised, battled with the demon drink.
Ulimtately, we discover how this relationship impacted on the characterisation in Mary Poppins. At first, P. L. Travers is a decidedly unlikeable, unsympathetic character. We’re rooting for Walt, who seems affable and aimable; of course while he may well have been both these things he is ultimately a skilled and shrewd man, an artful negotiator, and it’s to the film’s and Disney’s credit that it doesn’t shy from showing this side of his character.
Saving Mr. Banks, really, belongs to Emma Thompson. No one cries quite like she does and gradually, as her chracter starts to soften towards the man who created Mickey Mouse, we start to soften towards the woman who created Mary Poppins: her childhood in Australia unravels until finally we understand the inspiration for Mary Poppins, and the eponymous Mr. Banks. I started crying about a quarter of the way in and didn’t stop until the credits rolled (when you also get to hear P. L. Travers talking on tape – there are lots of additional, fascinating features on the DVD/Blu Ray, too.)
Tom Hanks is of course excellent. The last film I saw him in was Captain Phillips so this was quite a contrast, and it was unusual to see him in a role where, for once, he isn’t really a hero. He conveys Disney’s complex character perfectly, and there’s a wonderful scene where he lets us in to what may (or may not) have been the inspiration for Disney’s own creativity. Farrell, too, is terrific.
Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter if you’re not a fan of Mary Poppins, because this is a film about Hollywood, and film making, and family, and grief. I thought Saving Mr. Banks was a beautiful, poignant film. There are several really memorable moments (I won’t spoil them for you) and the acting is wonderful. Not everything that happens in the film happened in real life exactly like it is portrayed on screen, but I’m sure even P. L. Travers would have approved of Saving Mr. Banks.
So, that’s my Saving Mr. Banks review. And here’s a trailer: