This weekend, Disney fans across the country will be able to see one of the most-anticipated films of the year: Saving Mr. Banks. The film tells the story of Walt Disney and author P.L. Travers, played by Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson, during the development of the film adaptation of Mary Poppins. While doing so, Saving Mr. Banks also takes us back to the childhood of P.L. Travers (Thompson) to reveal some of her personal background and the root of the now-famous struggles Disney (Hanks) faced when trying to obtain the screen rights to Mary Poppins.
The all-star cast, led by the amazing Emma Thompson, bring the two stories to life. In 1961, P.L. Travers (Thompson) visits Los Angeles for the first time to meet with Walt Disney (Hanks) and his creative team to discuss details of film version of Mary Poppins, whose rights have not yet been signed over to Disney. Saving Mr. Banks shows the arduous, yet often-times comical, task of transforming the novels into a feature film through several meetings with script writer Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford) and songwriters Richard Sherman (Jason Schwartzman) and Robert Sherman (B.J. Novak), all while constrained to the difficult demands of Travers.
During her visit to California, Travers reminisces about her difficult childhood in a series of flashbacks throughout the film. We see her father (Colin Farrell) and mother (Ruth Wilson) working to make ends meet among personal struggles and hardships in rural Australia in the early 1900s. Travers’ Aunt Ellie (Rachel Griffiths) comes to help the family and later provides a lot of the inspiration for the author’s character Mary Poppins. By weaving the two stories together, Saving Mr. Banks helps the audience identify and understand Travers, despite her initial cold exterior.
Rating & Parents’ Guide
There is a lot of discussion surrounding Saving Mr. Banks‘ rating and why it warrants the PG-13 label. Given the subject matter and the studio making it, it’s very easy to assume that the film would be family-friendly. Music, clips, and the storyline of Mary Poppins are a large part of Saving Mr. Banks – and you can’t ignore the fact that Mary Poppins and Mickey Mouse himself are featured on the poster and artwork for the film. Despite all of this, there are quite a few mature topics presented in Saving Mr. Banks which I think need to be carefully considered before taking younger children to see it.
The following section is the only part of this post that could be considered to contain “spoilers,” so I would recommend skipping ahead to the full review portion if you’d like to avoid any specific information about the plot. We’ve included it here because it’s important for parents and families to know what to expect.PARENTS' GUIDE: Click to see rating information... (SPOILERS)
Saving Mr. Banks is divided into two storylines – one story of Walt Disney (Hanks) and a grown P.L. Travers (Thompson) discussing plans to make her famous Mary Poppins novels into a feature film, and one story of P.L. Travers growing up in Australia as a young girl.
The storyline of a young P.L. Travers shows a lot of the hardships she went through as a child – including an alcoholic father and a complicated relationship with her mother. There are multiple scenes showing her father (Farrell) drinking and completely drunk, all leading to a scene where he eventually dies from alcoholism-related illness. This plot line also involves a scene where her mother, overwhelmed by her situation, wades into a nearby river in an attempt at taking her own life. The young P.L. Travers swims out and wakes her mother up, and nothing comes from the attempt.
In the Walt Disney / adult P.L. Travers storyline, there is a scene toward the end of the film where Disney (Hanks) opens up to Travers (Thompson) about his own childhood. He tells a story of his father’s paper route and how he and his brother had to deliver papers – and also what consequences they would face if they didn’t get the job done properly. There is a brief mention of his ‘father’s belt’ and he insinuates that there was a physical punishment if he and his brother were late. The conversation is a heartfelt moment between the two characters and is presented in a forgiving way from Disney.
All of these moments help to develop the characters and their stories, and add such emotion and heart to the film. Had they removed them just get the film a lower rating, it would have essentially ‘dumbed-down’ the story and provided a lesser experience. However, it’s important to be aware of them and determine whether or not it’s too mature for a younger audience.
When I’ve done reviews like this in the past, I’ve tried to keep a well-balanced viewpoint and to let my initial reaction settle. In the case of Saving Mr. Banks , I even had the opportunity to see the film twice over a span of six weeks giving me ample time to think about it and come to a level conclusion. Plain and simple, Saving Mr. Banks is the greatest movie I’ve seen this year.
The aspect that stuck with me most from Saving Mr. Banks was the pure emotion and heart that it contained. Emma Thompson does an incredible job at showing the cold, and sometimes harsh side to P.L. Travers, but never letting the audience forget that deep down she is a complicated, sensitive individual with a strong connection to her character Mary Poppins. There are several moments in the film that caused me to tear up – yet there is always a comical moment that reminds you of the magnificent outcome that came from the collaboration between Travers (Thompson) and Disney (Hanks).
As a Disney fan, Tom Hanks’ performance not only stood up strongly next to Thompson’s Travers, but made me feel like I was seeing Walt on the screen. This wasn’t because of a perfect impression or a dead-on accent, but Hanks channeled the feeling and essence of Disney rather than a cartoonish portrayal of what we think we know about Walt. In doing so, he added to the inherent heart of the film.
While Saving Mr. Banks tells the story of Disney’s adaptation of Mary Poppins, I don’t want fans to go into this movie putting too much emphasis on Walt Disney or The Walt Disney Studios, or even Disneyland Park, which is the location for one memorable scene. The focus of the film is pointed directly at the complex and often-times sad personal life and childhood of P.L. Travers (Thompson). You leave the film with a better understanding of her Mary Poppins stories and as others have said, it’s very possible that you will never view the original Mary Poppins film the same way again. It’s as though Saving Mr. Banks gave it an additional layer of meaning and I know that I can now appreciate Mary Poppins in a whole new way.
I could not recommend this film more highly than I do – not just to Disney fans that have that connection to Walt Disney or to Mary Poppins – but to anyone who appreciates beautiful, emotional storytelling. I am so proud of Walt Disney Studios for making this movie. They could have easily passed the screenplay aside, but in making it they have created a film that will be enjoyed for years to come.
Disney fans have wondered for years about whether or not a film would be made about Walt Disney’s life. Although Saving Mr. Banks isn’t the grand Walt biography that some were hoping for, it is a remarkable film that will receive a lot of praise from more than just Disney fans. When Disney acquired the script for Saving Mr. Banks, the first thing they set out to do was hire the right actors for the roles and that is where a lot of the success of the film lies. Emma Thompson is brilliant as P.L. Travers and deserves every bit of her Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress. Thompson spent so much time listening to recordings of Travers that she completely nailed her mannerisms and if you don’t believe me, stay through the credits and you will be able to hear it yourself.
A lot of criticism has been pushed at Tom Hanks for his accent as Walt Disney and although he doesn’t sound exactly like Walt, Hanks paid close attention to Disney’s facial mannerisms and gestures, which sells his performance. On top of that, Tom Hanks is loved by so many that he is basically a modern-day Walt Disney in his profession. Not enough can be said about Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak as the Sherman Brothers. A lot of the film is focused on the two songwriters working through the script with Travers and Don da Gradi (Bradley Whitford), so their strong performances were crucial to the film.
The two characters that really stuck with me after leaving the theater were Travers Goff (Colin Farrell), P.L. Travers’ father, and Ralph (Paul Giamatti), P.L. Travers’ limo driver in Los Angeles. A lot of emotional scenes featured both characters and it isn’t surprising that both Farrell and Giamatti had no trouble at all bringing these roles to life. As good as the acting is, John Lee Hancock’s direction brought everything together proving once again that he can make a great dramatic film as he did with The Blind Side in 2009. Thomas Newman’s incredible score fills the last piece of the puzzle and is just as enjoyable to hear on the Saving Mr. Banks album as it is in the film.
I really do believe that the film will find an audience outside of Disney fans, but I have no doubts that it will be a classic to the hardcore Disney geeks. Saving Mr. Banks has a ton of emotional depth and really deserved its PG-13 rating. It could have easily been two films, one focusing on P.L. Travers’ childhood and the other focusing on the negotiations with Disney, but together the two stories blended into an unforgettable movie.
Saving Mr. Banks releases nationwide on Friday December 20th, 2013. Click here to find tickets in your area and learn more about the film.