We all know the classic that Mary Poppins became, but few knew the Herculean effort it took for Walt Disney to get the film made, as chronicled in Saving Mr. Banks. Disney had made a promise to his daughters that he would turn their favorite book into a film when they were young. Little did the man who was used to getting what he wanted know that it would take decades to fulfill a promise he made to two little girls.
Tom Hanks is Disney and Emma Thompson is the prickly Mary Pippins author P.L. Travers in director John Lee Hooker's even-paced, heartfelt film that celebrates that uniquely American creative institution that is Disney.
Our story alternates between Travers' youth as a young girl growing up in rural Australia and the early 1960s where the middle-aged author is globally known and hugely successful thanks to her Mary Poppins books. But, she also is in financial trouble and the influx of income from selling Disney the film rights would not only help, but it is a necessity.
The film crosses back and forth between the two time periods, almost to the final credits. See, Travers' past is integral to the birth of the Mary Poppins story and it has everything to do with her father. Colin Farrell is her dad, and one of the most magical aspects of a movie filled with magic is Farrell’s performance. It is tragic what happens to him, and the actor handles it with grace and power that fuels the issues that Travers has with Disney which are the crux of the film. Her story with her father is honestly, what gives us the movie’s title.
Thompson, earning a Golden Globe nomination for the role, is astonishing. She simultaneously manages to be rude, unlikable, put-off-ish and utterly fascinating and compelling. It could not have been an easy journey for the actress, capturing the elements of a person so torn between integrity, necessity and coming to grips with one’s past.
There is a fish-out-of-water aspect to Saving Mr. Banks as well, thanks to Thompson’s characterization. She’s supremely British (obviously by way of Australia), and when she lands in Los Angeles and gets the full Disney Hollywood treatment, you can tell it does not impress her, but she tolerates it. Maybe tolerate is too strong a word!
And there is Tom Hanks as Walt Disney. There could be no one in Hollywood today who could have captured an icon, except one who already is an icon himself. The nuances -- from the way he touches his mustache and the posture Hanks gives his character to the wonderment that Disney possessed that was infectious -- are uncanny. And Hanks and Thompson perform an acting dance that is simply gorgeous and breathtaking to watch.
Our Saving Mr. Banks review feels that one does not have to be a fan of Mary Poppins to appreciate the splendor of this film. The script is expertly weaved together. John Lee Hancock’s direction is with a touch that would make Disney himself proud. For those who do love the movie at the heart of this film, witnessing how the music came together through the Sherman brothers (expertly cast Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak) and the way that Travers ultimately fell under the spell that is Disney’s Magic Kingdom of film majesty, is pure bliss.