Movie Review – Saving Mr. Banks (2013)

At the time of writing this won’t be out for another few weeks, but I was fortunate enough to attend a preview screening and I cannot enthuse about this movie enough. I’d been looking forward to to for a while but it surpassed my expectations and it’s one of the best films I’ve seen all year. Saving Mr. Banks is a movie about the making of Mary Poppins, a beloved children’s classic that is close to many of our hearts. The film follows the struggles of Walt Disney (Tom Hanks – as an aside, I was reading up on the film and apparently this is the first time Walt Disney has been portrayed by an actor in a feature film) and his staff as they try to please Mrs. P. L. Travers (Emma Thompson) so that she will relinquish the rights to her books and allow them to make the movie. Along with this, we also follow the inspiration for the book as Mrs. Travers remembers her childhood. So the film doesn’t just act as the making of the movie, but it also serves as the story behind the book as well, which I found fascinating. 

I just have to say this now, this film was majestic. I was left having to compose myself. It taps into the childhood memory of Mary Poppins but it also works as a film in its own right, and the emotion it generates is wholly of its own creation, so it doesn’t need to rely on the classic film to elevate it. It’s very moving, and I’m not ashamed to say that parts of it moved me to tears. I was very impressed with the direction. John Lee Hancock did a great job in every aspect of the production. I especially liked the way that the time periods were interwoven, we relived Mrs. Travers’ childhood in the arid land of Australia while swirling back to the colourful  and busy scene of California in the 1960s but it was never confusing or disorienting. Also, towards the end, scenes from Mary Poppins were woven into the tapestry as well and it was a masterful way to wring the most emotion out of the scene. 

The performances were excellent as well. Emma Thompson was brilliant as the fussy, rigid, sometimes narrow-minded and frustrating Mrs. Travers. As a writer myself it was also interesting to see how she cared for her character and how she sought to protect her work. Her chemistry with Tom Hanks was amazing and they were both headstrong, determined people who only wanted (what they thought was) the best for the character. There was one particularly moving scene where Mrs. Travers comments that she, ‘doesn’t want Mary Poppins) to be turned into a silly cartoon, and you can see Walt Disney bristle, but he doesn’t snap at her like many would have. 

But I have to reserve special praise for Colin Farrell, who plays Mrs. Travers’ father in the flashback sequences. Before seeing the film I had no idea he was starring in it as he hadn’t been featured in the trailers I’d seen, but he gave a very complicated and heart-breaking performance as the tortured father who only wanted the best for his children. In some ways there were comparisons to be drawn between him and Walt Disney, who wanted to make the film to fulfill a promise he had made to his daughter, and the thematic links between the flashbacks and the contemporary world meshed together really well. Even the supporting characters had a touch of pathos, especially Paul Giamatti’s character, who I imagined would only be a source of some comic relief, but he actually had some of the most touching moments.

 I’m glad to say that a lot of the songs from the Mary Poppins made it into Saving Mr. Banks, and the ‘Let’s Go Fly A Kite’ segment, well, that bit sent my emotions soaring. 

Saving Mr. Banks just works on every level. It’s a great drama, I loved seeing how the movie progressed from the book to the screen, there’s a lot glitz and glamour, there’s plenty of humour and it works as a biography of Mrs. Travers and there are even biographical elements for Walt Disney as well. Speaking of which, as some of you may know I used to work at Disneyworld, so when they visit Disneyland in this movie it struck a chord for me because it took me back to those magical days, and it reminded me of all the amazing friends I made and the experiences I had. 

When the film finished I had a strong urge to watch Mary Poppins again. Saving Mr. Banks is a great film in its own right, but it also works as a companion piece to Mary Poppins. It also doesn’t take anything away from that film, but the knowledge gleaned from it gives a context to the events of Mary Poppins and if anything it will give that film more of an emotional impact as some of the elements in that film will be framed in the context we’re given here, and I think it’s wonderful that such a classic can be enhanced in this manner. 

I don’t really have anything bad to say about this film. The only thing which slightly disappointed me is that we didn’t get to see a version of Julie Andrews or Dick Van Dyke. I thought perhaps they may appear, but I think we only glimpsed them in the background of the premiere, which I kind of understand because it was really about Mrs. Travers, but I think it would have been nice. 

Overall though this was a wonderful experience and I will definitely be seeing it again when it comes out. I think it will have maximum impact for people who have seen and like Mary Poppins, so if you don’t like that then perhaps this film isn’t for you. This is the kind of film that I go to the movies to see, it really reaches inside and takes hold of your heart and your soul, and doesn’t let them go until long after you’ve seen it. There’s also a very nice bit at the end where we hear Mrs. Travers’ voice, and I thought that was a really nice touch, so stay for a little while after the credits and just let it wash over you. 

I’m going to give Saving Mr. Banks the highest praise I possibly can – it is Fantasmic. For those who don’t understand – Fantasmic is a fireworks display at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and it was my favourite thing while I was there, and I think it’s a fitting description of this film. Go and see it the minute it is out, you won’t regret it. I can’t wait to see it again. 

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