Mary Poppins is a special film for me. The first film I ever went to see at the cinema, perhaps even at the age of 3 when it first came out in 1964. And after that first experience I couldn’t get enough of it: I dragged my poor dear departed mother to that cinema so many times that she used to dread seeing the Julie Andrews cut-out of the “magic nanny” outside our local smoky flea-pit in York!
Saving Mr Banks tells the story of the making of that ground-breaking film and – more specifically – the battle that Walt Disney had in persuading the cranky spinster P.L Travers in signing over the rights to make his film: the film he had promised to make to his two daughters twenty years before. Tom Hanks plays Disney, looking exactly like him and getting the mannerisms just right too… he got a Golden Globe nomination for Captain Phillips – but it must have been a tough call.
To quality assure the script for the film, Travers (played exquisitely by Emma Thompson) travels to the Disney studios in Los Angeles where she ‘teams’ (using the word extremely loosely) with Walt’s creative talent: screenwriter Don DaGradi (played by Bradley Whitford – Josh Lyman of the West Wing) and composers Robert and Richard Sherman (played by BJ Novak and Richard Schwartzman).
Travers refuses to have any cartoon content in the film, hates the colour red and says “no” to most of the Sherman brothers’ classic output. This is fine comedic stuff, and watching the leads bounce off each other is a joy. Also touching is the pseudo love story that seems to develop between the waspish Travers and her LA driver Ralph, played by Paul Giamatti. In all these scenes Emma Thompson is excellent, in portraying what is a largely unlikable character, and well deserving of her Golden Globes nomination.
But this is just half of the story. The film proceeds through regular flashbacks to Travers’ childhood in rural Australia and her relationship with her loving but dysfunctional father (Colin Farrell: few actors do drunk better than Colin Farrell: can’t imagine why). As the viewer we get a glimpse into perhaps why Travers ended up the way she did. A life full of sadness and guilt is reflected in the Poppins’ stories, and the scene where a floodgate of sorrow and emotion is finally released at the Chinese Theatre premiere is very moving.
And if you are one of those that dives for the exit as the first title scrolls, resist the urge: not only do we see archive photos of the original film’s making, but the final section plays some of the original tape recording’s of the Disney team pitching their ideas to Travers and her acidic comments in return: quite fascinating.
There is something however a little unsettling with the balance of the film. Perhaps its that the light-hearted nature of the 60’s segments grate markedly with the tragedy of the Australian elements, with the frequency of the flashbacks never letting you feel comfortable with the flow. And it is clear that in reality Disney road roughshod over her ideas anyway: case in point Poppin’s red coat in the film and the multiple cartoon segments. Rumour has it that there was a far less cutesy showdown between Disney and Travers at the premiere than the Disneyfied version of the film shows. Overall though, this was a highly watchable and enjoyable film.
Finally though I would like to vent my wrath (again) at the makers for the trailer (below): Emma Thompson; Tom Hanks; Disney vs Travers – sold! But no – we got a blow by blow account of the whole plot leaving nothing to discover. Whatever happened to the teaser trailer?
Fad Rating: FFFf.