Saving Mr. Banks Movie Review by Ron Wilkinson
A thoroughly entertaining story of the trauma and drama that spawned the Mary Poppins story and the Disney touch that brought it to the screen.
Directed by John Lee Hancock and anchored by a screenplay by Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith, veteran Tom Hanks plays a familiar role in “Saving Mr. Banks.” This is the story of Disney chasing, courting and finally corralling curmudgeonly English author P. L. Travers (great work by Emma Thompson) into selling him the screen rights for her story “Mary Poppins.” Walt made a promise to his daughter when she was a little girl that he would someday make a movie of what was one of her favorite tales. Reportedly, he tried to buy the rights from Travers for some twenty years. She steadfastly refused because she was convinced that Hollywood would make a mockery of what was, apparently, a very personal story.
How much of this film is true will forever remain a mystery. However, the crux of the plot is that Travers had some very good reasons for what bordered on a pathological attachment to “Mary Poppins.” That attachment relates to the father of the children in the story, one Mr. Banks. Hence the title of the film. That is all that will be said about that. You will have to see the film to learn more.
In playing Disney, Hanks calls upon a previous character that might, at first glance, seem to have little in common with the animator/showman. As FBI Agent Carl Hanratty in “Catch Me If You Can” he was pursuing boy-genius counterfeiter Frank Abagnale Jr. (Leonardo DiCaprio). In the end there was a strong suggestion that the reason he was able to apprehend, and eventually even reform, the wild child was that he and the delinquent had something in common. They both had problems with loneliness, alienation, and probably with their fathers.
In one of the great performances of his career, Christopher Walken played Frank Abagnale Sr., an addicted dreamer who could never understand why his dreams did not come true. The alienation that he passed on to his son allowed the boy to launch himself into the world as a fully-fledged outlaw, at a tender age. In “Mr. Banks” the author Travers has secrets relating to her father, and so does Mr. Disney. His father was a great man, we are led to understand, but there was something missing in the area of his ability to show the affection he felt for his son. Like many men and women who feel they were never good enough to satisfy their parents, Walt Disney and P.L. Travers both had a mission to succeed that few of us will ever understand. Probably, it is just as well for us.
As the story unfolds, things are not going well until Disney stumbles onto the discovery of what is really behind Mary Poppins, and it is not kids flying through air. As we are told, he finds an amazing similarity between himself and the author and this is what allows him to break the deadlock. He discovers the key to elicit the trust he needs to get her permission to make the film.
As one would expect, the costumes, cinematography and sets for this film are impeccable. The history is pretty good, too, although we will never know the whole truth. The behind the scenes interactions between Travers and “Mary Poppins” songwriters Don DaGradi, and Richard and Robert Sherman (played by Bradley Whitford, B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman) are very funny as well as being believable. This is where the real England vs. America drama plays out. Tom Hanks has only small appearances throughout most of the movie. But when he does enter the screen, it is like the world stops. He is simply wonderful to watch.
Also in the wonderful-to-watch department is the redoubtable Paul Giamatti playing Ralph, the limousine driver who ferries Ms. Travers hither and yon. Considering he has so little screen time, it is amazing that his charm and grace almost steal the show from Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks. Another exceptional performance by Colin Farrell as PJ Travers’ father Travers Goff, who dies when she is a child.
More great history with the wonderfully imaginative storyboards that pieced together the movie and which could actually be real. No matter one way or the other, it is a fascinating look back in time to the birth of modern film making when a lot of work was still done by hand. Another great Tom Hanks film. Nothing that will make you mad, crazy or delirious with laughter. But it is definitely entertaining from opening to closing.