Director: John Lee Hancock Starring: Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks & Colin Farrell Synopsis: “Author P. L. Travers reflects on her difficult childhood while meeting with filmmaker Walt Disney during production for the adaptation of her novel, Mary Poppins.” Runtime: 125 minutes
“I will not have her called Cynthia, absolutely not. It feels unlucky. It should be something warm, a bit sexy. How about Mavis?”
Occasionally it is possible to be genuinely surprised by a movie. In an age where films can be ruined via a glut of trailers, and with information so readily available online before the film has even been released, it is a wonderful feeling to walk away from a film that hasn’t fallen victim to the endless hype that seems to engulf even the smallest of Hollywood films these days, and leave you feeling that you have seen something truly memorable for a change.
Saving Mr. Banks tells the story of Walt Disney’s (Hanks) attempt to persuade author P.L. Travers (Thompson) to hand over the rights to her series of books featuring the character of Mary Poppins. Chronicling her two-week stay in California in the 1960’s, Saving Mr. Banks showcases the difficulties that Disney had in assuring Travers that he would do justice to her beloved novels and that it wouldn’t become the animated farce that she feared.
With Hanks playing the role of Walt Disney, the words “perfect casting” come to mind, as Hanks completely embodies the character. He is charming and full of energy, and despite him ultimately being a businessman, there seems an honesty and earnestness to him that could have been lacking from a different actors portrayal of the character. He also brings a humour and a sensitivity to the role that the audience warms to straight away, as does Thompson’s Travers, even though it takes her a little longer to get onside with Disney and his plans.
Emma Thompson’s performance is notable too. As the uptight author who longs to hold onto her beloved book, but knows she must sell if she wishes to keep her home, she is uptight, sarcastic and unwilling to give most people the time of day. It is a miracle then that her character comes across as quite likable, and at times very funny, with Thompson showing a comedic timing I was previously unaware she possessed. Her character is stripped down by the film’s end, not completely I might add, but it is clear that her time in California changes her for the better.
The rest of cast is filled out with the likes of Paul Giamatti, who plays Traver’s driver Ralph, Bradley Whitford as Don DaGradi and B.J. Novak & Jason Schwartzman as the Sherman brothers who provide the wonderful music that accompanies the original Mary Poppins movie. Giamatti has limited screen time and performs admirably with a small role that could have otherwise have gone unnoticed. Novak & Schwartzman have fun with their roles as the musical Sherman brothers and their exuberance really shows. Bradley Whitford, like Giamatti, has a small role, but one that is still memorable, mostly for his daily battles with Travers and her demands for the film which test his patience to the limit.
It is however, Colin Farrell who does some of his best work in this film. Even though his English accent may falter at times, his performance as Travers Goff, father to Thompson’s P.L. Travers and the Mr. Banks of the title, is truly remarkable. Seen in flashbacks to Traver’s youth, Farrell’s Goff is a complex man. Struggling to keep his job at the bank and battling the demons of being an alcoholic, whilst also trying to be a good father & husband make Goff unstable & Farrell knows this. Simultaneously trying to protect his daughter from the perils of adulthood, while he himself shies away from his responsibilities by seeking solace in the bottom of a pint glass is a curious balance to attempt, but one that Farrell seems to have no problem in keeping.
With director John Lee Hancock, people could be forgiven that Saving Mr. Banks could have fallen into the type of cheesy schmaltz that would have befitted a daytime soap opera more, but his direction is strong, allowing the characters and the story room to breathe. There may be one too many flashbacks to Traver’s youth growing up in Australia, and perhaps the film is a bit too “nice” for anyone expecting a bit drama and bite. Nevertheless, Hancock crafts a clever story that deserves to be told, and with solid direction and memorable characters, Saving Mr. Banks is a movie that can be enjoyed by anyone regardless of how much they know about Mary Poppins and her troubled history.
In summary: A wonderful attempt at telling the real story behind the Disney classic Mary Poppins. With good direction from Hancock and star turns from Hanks, Thompson & Farrell, Saving Mr. Banks is a charming movie that will break even the coldest of hearts.