Saving Mr. Banks is a movie I didn’t expect to enjoy. I figured it would be 90 minutes of overbearing Disney fluff. However, as I watched this story unfold from both the past and present perspective of author P.L. Travers, portrayed by Emma Thompson, I was amazed by how much of an uncomfortable, yet entertaining power struggle making Mary Poppins must have truly been.
Saving Mr. Banks begins with an irritated Travers at home in England talking with her attorney about another fruitless attempt by a very Tom Hanksy Walt Disney to acquire the film rights to her literary masterpiece, Mary Poppins. Twenty years of beginning into it, old Walt just wouldn’t take no for an answer.
Despite being rebuffed so many times before, Disney extends an invitation for Travers to come out to la la land and offers script approval rights as a gesture of good will. Like many great writers, she is forced to sell out because she needs the money. Travers, as particular and uptight as they come, sets the stage for an uphill battle.
Mr. Disney pulls out all the stops to welcome Mrs. Travers, and she blows it off, unimpressed. It takes all of the magical Walt Disney/Mickey Mouse charm to convince her to work on producing a script with the film crew, and as they begin to work, Travers’ perpetual negativity really tests your patience.
Long story short, Travers says no to everything from Dick Van Dyke starring in the film to including musical numbers or any use of animation whatsoever. Even the tiniest of character details, like Mr. Banks having a mustache, aren’t exempt from her purported wrath. I remember thinking “the only way they make this Poppins movie is if she dies and they forge her signature.”
Ironically, after doing a little background research, since this is a biopic after all, I realized Thompson’s performance isn’t far off. Though the real P.L. Travers was indeed taken aback by Disney’s initial approaches at Poppins, she was really pissed at the outcome despite agreements along the way. She hated it so much that she took her disdain for big screen Poppins’ portrayal to the grave. So it apparently took more than a spoonful of Disney magic and loosely adapted script to keep Mr. Banks from not being the total downer the true story would’ve been. The movie failed hardcore at portraying this, which is why so many have chalked it up as a Disney propaganda stunt.
Travers tragic childhood memories appear throughout the film, and we quickly learn her loving, yet boozing father, Colin Farrell, is the real Mr. Banks; her aunt who comes to save the day is the respective Mary Poppins. So as these film producers belt out musical numbers in chorus that would’ve previously made Travers cringe, she begins to enjoy them as a way to bring a better conclusion to her past than she had had. The realization of this fact is easily the most memorable scene in the entire film, as a drunken Farrell as Mr. Banks executes his tipsy and awkward speech in a way that transforms. Whether or not this was the case for Travers, I’m not sure. But it made for a well crafted film that is very much worth seeing.
by Patrick Fancher