“I love Mary Poppins, and you’ve got to share her with me,” says filmmaker Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) to P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson), author of the children’s classic, who is in L.A. from London to approve — or not — the script, songs and cast of Disney’s proposed film, “Mary Poppins.” It’s 1961. Mrs. Travers, as she insists she be addressed, is dubious, to say the least. Nor is she hesitant to speak her mind: “Mary Poppins,” she says, “does not sing. She is the very enemy of whimsy and frivolity.” Her recalcitrance sets up the story in this Disney film.
Will Mrs. Travers sign the rights to her creation over to Mr. Disney? Do the film’s animated penguins (“No animation!” says Travers) make the cut? Why is Travers such a difficult woman? See “Mr. Banks” for answers.
Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks bring their considerable screen-acting skills to the lead characters. As Mrs. Travers, Thompson is proper, no-nonsense, picky, stubborn and, we hear Hanks’ Disney say, “cranky.” She needs the money that signing over the rights would bring, but, she says, “Mary Poppins and the Bankses are family to me.” As the film’s title and Travers’ back story (we see it in the film) tell us, she speaks truthfully about her family. Hanks plays Disney as a patient, resourceful and determined businessman who’s also a good father, having promised his daughters 20 years previously to make a movie of their favorite book. Can he persuade Travers to permit a Mary Poppins musical?
Others in the large cast include Colin Ferrell and Ruth Wilson as Travers’ troubled parents: father, an alcoholic, mother, suicidal. Bradley Whitford, B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman are Disney scriptwriter Don DaGradi and composers Robert and Richard Sherman. Rachel Griffiths is Aunt Ellie, clearly the model for Mary Poppins. Annie Rose Buckley is excellent as youthful P.L. Travers.
“Saving Mr. Banks” is a sentimental and touching film — with a bit of humor — about the making of Disney’s “Mary Poppins” (1964). More importantly, it’s about fathers and daughters — Travers and her beloved, alcoholic father — and, implicitly, Disney’s 20-year promise to his daughters. Also, it’s about the meaning of Travers’ story in her life. “You think Mary Poppins has come to save the children,” she says. “It’s not the children; it’s the father she comes to save.” Directed by John Lee Hancock from a sweet — but not sappy — script by Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith, the film will appeal if you remember the 1964 movie.
Rated PG-13 for themes and unsettling images, “Mr. Banks” runs 125 minutes. Adult entertainment with a Disney feel. How could it not have that?
Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks –
Feisty Brit, determined Yank –
To them both, hearty thanks
For bringing us “Mr. Banks.”