The gestation of a film from paper to screen is often an interesting one, and in the case of any work that’s “Based on a True Story,” the parallels between reality and creative liberty can become the subject of scrutiny. In the case of a film like SAVING MR. BANKS, things are even more open to discussion and dissection, as the source material is the result of research and point-of-view from several angles, made even more challenging by the fact that many of the subjects are no longer around to offer their input. The result is a delightful and fascinating (if not entirely accurate) film that focuses on one period within the legendary career of Walt Disney – the end of his twenty-year pursuit of author P.L. Travers in hopes of bringing her character, MARY POPPINS, to the big screen. Out this week on Blu-ray/DVD/Digital HD, the folks at Walt Disney Studios sent a copy here for review, and now I’m throwing down some virtual ink on it.
With Tom Hanks becoming the first actor to step into the role of Walt Disney on film (and I cannot think of anyone better for the task) and Emma Thompson taking on Travers, we’re presented with a power struggle between two creatives – one being the most iconic animator in history, the other being an author that’s protective of her creation and the thought of handing it off to someone else. While it’s Walt who I can most identify with – a father of two girls (like me) trying to make good on a promise to them (which I would do), my own experiences make me sympathetic to the curmudgeonly Travers, as I’ve been in those meetings where a large company wants to take over the creative property of an individual writer (that would be me) and turn it into something else.
While Travers is presented as being… not exactly “nice,” my recent adventures in Los Angeles took me to The Walt Disney Archives in Burbank (more on that to be posted soon as a Special Feature here on THE ROCK FATHER), where I had a chance to listen to some of the original recordings of conversations referenced in SAVING MR. BANKS. The general consensus is that Thompson might’ve actually played her a little lighter than reality.
Beautifully shot under the direction of John Lee Hancock (THE BLIND SIDE) from a screenplay by Kelly Marcel (FIFTY SHADES OF GREY) and Sue Smith, SAVING MR. BANKS tells it’s story by delving into the childhood memories of Travers and how they may have shaped POPPINS, while weaving those tales alongside the making of the 1964 film adaptation, and how in the end, MARY POPPINS (and the importance of Mr. Banks) is completely rooted in the life of Travers’ Dad, Travers Goff (played here by Colin Farrell), who forever inspired her.
While we know what MARY POPPINS would become (it nabbed several Oscars, and was nominated for Best Picture), a look into it’s tumultuous development, the songwriting process of the Sherman Brothers, and the final result and end between Disney and Travers (she had to ask to come to the World Premiere of the film) makes for an enjoyable ride, filled with fantastic production design to capture the period, and standout performances all around.
I wasn’t expected an Anti-Smoking PSA during the “previews” section of SAVING MR. BANKS, but it’s fitting when coupled with a running, yet subtle message carried throughout the film. Walt Disney was a lifelong chain smoker (just as I was for 14 years), and he can be heard coughing off-screen in several scenes, and interrupted while smoking in his office during a moment where Travers barges in. He quickly extinguishes his cigarette, and tells her that he doesn’t like to be seen smoking, which was a noted behavior of Disney. Though not covered in the film, Walt Disney died of lung cancer just two years after the release of MARY POPPINS.
THE WALT DISNEY STUDIOS: FROM POPPINS TO PRESENT featurette is a treat for me since I’d just visited the studio back in February, but it’s a fun overview of how the place has changed in the past fifty years. Director John Lee Hancock leads the tour, revisiting many locations used in the film. Richard Sherman joins him in the old animation building (now production offices), and explains the last time he and his brother Robert, saw Walt Disney alive.
The Deleted Scenes don’t add anything to the film, so it’s clear why they were omitted from the final cut, though the “Let’s Go Fly A Kite” cast and crew sing-a-long is heartfelt and moving.
The Rock Father Rating: 4.5/5 Stars
SAVING MR. BANKS is available via (my affiliate) Amazon: