I love it when a film can educate me, giving me a new perspective on something I previously did not know. I love it even more when a film achieves this in a way that is entertaining and absorbing. The process surrounding the adaptation of Mary Poppins to cinema screens was one that I did not know about, nor think there was enough of a story to center an entire film around. Because of this, I was quite interested in seeing Saving Mr. Banks and learning about the creation of the iconic Disney film.
Directed by John Lee Hancock, Saving Mr. Banks stars Emma Thompson as the author of Mary Poppins, P.L. Travers, and Tom Hanks as Walt Disney. The film examines the lengthy process that brought Mary Poppins to life on the silver screen, and the heavy involvement Travers had in the project. Saving Mr. Banks also explores the early childhood of Travers, and the way her upbringing influenced the creation of Mary Poppins.
John Lee Hancock handled these interwoven storylines very skillfully. Sections of the film exploring the tumultuous process of Walt Disney negotiating with P.L. Travers were injected with humor and heartfelt drama. The creative processes that shaped the musical and aesthetic qualities of Mary Poppins were riveting, full of whimsical interactions between the characters as they strived to breathe life into the project.
These parts of the film were complemented by the storyline focused on the early childhood of P.L. Travers. These sections of Saving Mr. Banks provided compelling insight into many aspects of Travers’ childhood as it became more and more fractured. A number of serious issues were raised throughout these sequences, and they were handled in a mature manner. Aside from some sudden and awkward transitions, the two sides of the film worked hand in hand. The plot threads weaved into each other in a way that fleshed out Travers as she reflected on her troubled childhood.
This layered story wouldn’t have been as successful without the strong performances from the cast. As P.L. Travers, Emma Thompson embodied the pushy and sporadic personality of the author. Thompson filled every scene with smart and quirky humor, bringing the creation of Mary Poppins to life in an entertaining fashion. Thompson also captured the fragile and damaged side of Travers, showing how the author’s upbringing impacted her. This well-rounded performance from Emma Thompson provided significant insight into the undying loyalty Travers held for Mary Poppins.
While it is questionable if his portrayal was completely accurate, Tom Hanks delivered a fine performance as Walt Disney. In his signature style, Hanks made Disney a humble, charismatic, and very likeable character. With their portrayals of characters from very different worlds, Thompson and Hanks created a great dynamic between Travers and Disney that evolved over the course of the film.
Alongside the two leads, Saving Mr. Banks was filled with memorable performances from the rest of the cast. Colin Farrell and Ruth Wilson both did superb jobs portraying the loving parents of P.L. Travers. Farrell and Wilson brought scenes of the author’s tragic childhood to life with emotional depth and maturity. Bradley Whitford, Jason Schwartzman, and B.J. Novac were all great as the creative team in charge of developing Marry Poppins into a feature film. Rounding out this cast was Paul Giamatti, who managed to squeeze a tremendous amount of character depth out of his limited supporting role.
Saving Mr. Banks may not set any new standards for filmmaking; but it did tell an informative and engaging story. While the film was somewhat conventional at times, and I’m sure it wasn’t completely accurate, it was an enjoyable ride. With its informative story and well-developed characters, Saving Mr. Banks gave me a new perspective on an old Disney classic.