Capitalizing on the 50th anniversary of the classic Disney film, Saving Mr. Banks is the story of how Mary Poppins came to life on the big screen. Tom Hanks in a much buzzed about role as Walt himself strives to convince the stodgy and emotionally complex P. L. Travers (Emma Thompson) to trust him with her beloved characters. Paul Giamatti, Jason Schwartzman, Colin Farrell, and Ruth Wilson all co-star.
P. L. Travers was certainly an interesting person, and the film that resulted from the adaptation of her novels is one of the most beloved Disney classics of all time so it’s no wonder why this film was made. The film alternates between exploring Travers’ childhood and “present day” 1961 where 20 years of attempting to acquire the film rights to the story is culminating into the piece of cinema we all know and love.
While I’m sure there is a lot of truth to what is shown on screen, a lot of it feels too convenient and contrived to be the full story. The way certain events with Walt and company parallel Travers’ past experiences, especially with her father (Farrell) are moving, but also feel scripted. There are lines in the film so obviously carefully constructed to impact those who have seen and cherish Mary Poppins that it casts doubt on the whole truth of the story itself, even if those lines are true in nature even if they were never actually uttered. It’s hard to trust the validity of a film like this produced by the very company it is about for the obvious reasons of creating feel-good buzz around the 50th anniversary of the events of the film. Those questions take away from an otherwise great film as the nagging suspicion of calculated propaganda never quite goes away.
Perhaps I am a little cynical, and it’s not like Disney is painted as a perfect white knight – even if the person and company are clearly the heroes here – and taken at face value, this is a dramatic, well done, moving film. It’s fascinating to see where the character of Poppins originated and how she ties in with her author’s difficult childhood.
Thompson is perfect in the complex lead, and the supporting cast is top notch as well, including Giamatti as her slightly oddball driver. It is a worthwhile film that just might have to be taken with a pinch of salt. Families be warned though, despite the premise and the way this film is being marketed, it deals with some pretty dark material including alcoholism and suicide.
This is an intriguing film about interesting real life people. It hints at a lot of details but never really delves too deep – there are just a few too many spoonfuls of sugar added for it to be really great.
Mrs. Hamster says:
“It doesn’t feel very original, Tom Hanks is not Oscar worthy in it, and it’s probably not even true. I love the music though.”
My rating: Three out of five hats
Saving Mr. Banks umbrella-floats into 2,095 theaters, December 20