When Walt Disney’s daughters begged him to make a movie of their favorite book, P.L. Travers’ “Mary Poppins,” he made them a promise. There’s no way he could have realized it would take 20 years to keep, but like any father, he refused to let them down. In his quest to obtain the rights, Walt came up against a curmudgeonly, uncompromising, bitter woman who had absolutely no intention of letting her beloved magical nanny get mauled by the Hollywood machine.
But, as her books stop selling and money grows short, Travers reluctantly agreed to go to Los Angeles to hear Disney’s plans for the adaptation. For those two short weeks in 1961, we can thank Walt Disney and his crew for pulling out all the stops. Armed with imaginative storyboards and chirpy songs from the talented Sherman brothers, Walt launched an all-out onslaught on P.L. Travers, but the prickly author wouldn’t budge. He quickly realized her will was immovable and the rights began to move further away from his grasp. It is only when he reached into his personal childhood that Walt discovered the way to unravel Mrs. Travers’ and bring her to forgiveness. Who would have thought that this was to be the start of such a great legacy?
As narrative flashbacks delve into Mrs. Travers’ childhood, we soon realize the true depth of her literary creation, Mary Poppins. “Saving Mr. Banks” explores the bond between a young Mrs. Travers (then Helen) and her drunkard father, Travers Goff (exceptionally played by Colin Farrell). Like a puzzle, the story is pieced together, bit by bit and the viewer comes to understand her complexities and learns that her deep-seated adoration for her father is what lies at the heart of her magical masterpiece.
Two-time Academy Award winner Tom Hanks delivers extraordinary sense of character as an American icon that plays an American icon. He portrays Mr. Walt Disney with expert attention to detail. There’s a lot of voice work, the way he walks, the body positions, the way he holds his hands, the way he touches his moustache. How he phrases things and lets sentences roll off the end. Tom Hanks becomes Walt Disney and we get to learn of the man behind the mouse.
I’ve always appreciated Emma Thompson as a strong performer. Here, as Mrs. P.L. Travers, she gives another award winning performance as an author as protective as her life’s work as a mother is for a child while dealing with demons nearly forgotten. Her truth set Mary Poppins free.
Besides the dynamic connection between Hanks and Thompson, I looked forward to the miraculous soundtrack of Academy Award winning composer Thomas Newman. Everything about the music in Saving Mr. Banks resonates perfectly. It will be a strong contender for an Original Score Oscar this year.
“Saving Mr. Banks” ultimately gives testament to the might of the mouse house and conveys the magical idea that everybody has a story to tell. Banks is touching, funny and ultimately a supercalifragilisticexpialidocious drama that will stay in your heart for a long time. (Couldn’t resist!)