Saving Mr. Banks: a Disneyfied tale of the team behind Mary Poppins

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It’s funny how the films you don’t intend to see can take you by surprise. Saving Mr. Banks was one of those films that I’d heard good things about, but I’d shrugged it off as a rental simply because it didn’t catch my interest (if I’m being honest, biographies and/or true stories rarely do). However, when a friend suggested it to while away an afternoon, I figured why not? So we caught a matinee show.

Let me preface this review by saying something that might shock you, dear readers: if I have seen Mary Poppins, it’s been long enough that I remember next to nothing about it. I know the basic story and most of the songs, of course, but I couldn’t give you any of the details of the plot. Perhaps that’s why I wasn’t interested in Saving Mr. Banks. But I am so, so glad I did see it. Is it overly sentimental and a very Disneyfied version of the true story? Probably. But the performances are so good and the story-telling so smooth that I really didn’t have a problem with that.

SAVING MR. BANKS

Synopsis: “Author P. L. Travers reflects on her difficult childhood while meeting with filmmaker Walt Disney during production for the adaptation of her novel, Mary Poppins.” Borrowed from my favorite movie site, IMDb.

The Good: This film is pretty evenly divided between two stories: P.L. Travers’ traumatic childhood and her dealings with Walt Disney and co. during the production of Mary Poppins. The film could easily favor one story over the other, but I feel like it maintains a nice balance of the two, and, despite going back and forth between them, both stories run their proper course and both of them are interesting. Plus, the stories are woven together in a really clever, cohesive way. There’s even a scene where dialogue from a character in Travers’ past is blended with a song from Mary Poppins. It’s smart, entertaining story-telling. However, the film wouldn’t be nearly as good as it is without the incredible cast. Emma Thompson is perfect as the very particular and never satisfied Mrs. Travers, and she’s bound to get an Oscar nomination. Tom Hanks could very well get a nomination for his performance as Walt Disney, too, as it seems to be a pretty spot-on portrayal (though I’m not sure Disney was quite as agreeable as Tom Hanks makes him out to be). Colin Farrell plays Travers’ beloved, wildly imaginative father, who, unfortunately, made his family suffer through his alcoholism. Paul Giamatti plays Travers’ cheerful, good-natured limo driver, Ralph. Bradley Whitford plays Mary Poppins screenwriter Don DaGradi, and Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak play the Sherman brothers, who wrote the music for the film. They’re all brilliantly cast, and there’s not a bad performance among them. And a great part of the fun of this film is the music—both the score and the music the Sherman brothers play for Travers. Honestly, the music alone will make you want to watch Mary Poppins again, and you won’t be able to get those tunes out of your head for days. I would know. Favorite scene: DaGradi and the Sherman brothers finally win Travers over with a tweaked ending to Mary Poppins and a rousing rendition of “Let’s Go Fly a Kite.” Very uplifting and very fun.

The Bad: Though it didn’t bother me, I could see how some people might think this film is overly sentimental. It definitely makes an effort to tug at your heartstrings—even aggressively so at times. Given that this film is based off true events, what unfolds is definitely a little too sappy and sweet for real-life. You can sense the embellishments. Also, Travers, though wonderfully portrayed by Thompson, is often too outlandish to be believed. I understand that she was a tough customer for Disney and co., but I sincerely doubt she acted nearly as over-the-top as she does in this film. There were a few times when the character’s behavior made me pause and think, “Really?” My biggest qualm, though, is with the end of the film, which feels far too abrupt. The end to both Travers’ childhood story and her dealings with Disney seem cut off before we get to some of the most important parts. How was young Travers’ relationship with her aunt, who seemed to partially inspire the character of Mary Poppins? What made Travers agree to continue with the film despite her major qualms (i.e. the animation)? Did Travers react favorably to the finished film? We don’t know any of this. Maybe the film is either assuming that we already know or that we intend to find out after we leave the theater, but that’s assuming too much. Least favorite scene: Almost any scene dealing with Travers’ father’s alcoholism. I can’t count how many times we see him take a swig from the secret bottle in his jacket, but I can tell you it’s too much. We pretty much get the idea after the first glimpse. The father’s story as a whole feels fairly heavy-handed.

To Sum It Up: There are a few mild stumbles in this film, but the performances are so great, the story so smooth, and the music so fun that I was able to get past those issues. Highly recommended for those seeking a slightly grown-up family film (PG-13 rating) and/or Disney lovers. A must-see for Mary Poppins fans.

My Grade: A-

Hope your weekend it off to an excellent start, friends! Come back tomorrow because, fingers crossed, I will have another fulfilled film resolution for you. 2014 is rolling along! 🙂

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35 thoughts on “Saving Mr. Banks: a Disneyfied tale of the team behind Mary Poppins

  1. I was always a Mary Poppins fan but I was going to wait and rent this. Might take an afternoon off to see it now that I’ve read this, it’s a good score!

  2. Good review. What works so well about this movie is that it isn’t the most manipulative thing in the world. Sure, sometimes it can be a bit schmaltzy, but it felt deserved and worked well for the story, if only because of the amazing cast involved.

  3. The one point I will make is that I think the movie pretty clearly shows Travers being moved by Mary Poppins, that she likes it.

    Otherwise I agree. Great review!

    • Thanks, friend! I did notice she was moved by it, but then I wondered how much of that part was actually true…I love Disney, but I’m not sure how much to trust when it comes to things based off of true events. I thought I remembered hearing that she actually didn’t like the film…?

      • Oh. I can tell you that. It isn’t. Most of that movie is fiction, which is why I only gave it a C+.

        Reality is she hated it. Despised. Loathed. The movie, Walt Disney and The Sherman Brothers.

        She did cry at the premiere, but because she was traumatized by what Disney had done to her beloved creation. She was so traumatized that she used her last will and testament to forbid the Sherman brothers, by name, from ever being involved in any production using any of her characters ever again. No plays. No musicals. No movies. No books. No nothing. The Shermans could have nothing to do with anything ever.

        Why was she so traumatized? Disney double crossed her. He gave her script approval rights, just like this movie presents and them went through an arduous script approval process, wherein, to some extent, Travers was as difficult as this movie shows. Once the script was done, Disney made the flick he wanted all along. When he screened to Travers privately, she asked him when they started editing. To which he said, more or less, ‘You had script approval rights. Not editing rights.’

        • Oh wow. I had a feeling this story was not quite true. Didn’t realize it was to that degree. Yeesh. This film is kind of a slap in the face to Travers then, huh? Adding insult to injury…

        • Basically, yeah.

          The worst part is that the real story is probably better than the white washed fiction they present, thematically speaking. It would go a long way toward illustrating the lengths to which artists go to creating their labors of love.

        • Makes you wonder what might’ve happened if Disney hadn’t been the company to make this…but then I guess they wouldn’t have let that happen. Haha.

  4. Great review, I did not really intend on seeing this one but I may give it a watch solely on your review! jjames’ comments are quite interesting, indeed. Great info there. Thanks for this review and I am glad you enjoyed the movie. 🙂

  5. Great review, Cara! 🙂 I SO wanted to see this one but didn’t quite manage it. 😦 Oh well – it’s on DVD fairly soon! And have you still not re-watched Mary Poppins?? Love it. The songs more than the movie, though…

    • If you love Mary Poppins, you definitely must rent this whenever it comes out! The songs are used in very cool ways. And yeah, Mary Poppins is one of about 3,752,900 films I should get around to watching/re-watching…Maybe Resolutions should go on all year? Haha.

  6. Pingback: Saving Mr. Banks | Rocky's Reviews Today

  7. I agree the stuff with her dad was heavy-handed, but I liked that part of the movie better since I didnt know how it was going to turn out, beforehand.

    In a very Disney way, I took it Walt’s emotional speech erased all of her doubts and objections about the movie. Hokey, I know, but that’s what they went with.that

    The performances were great, as were the musical moments. Everything else was meh.

    • I think the performances are definitely what puts this one a cut above a lot of live-action Disney stuff. Overall, I enjoyed it more than I expected to. Nice that you seemed to enjoy it well enough, too! 🙂

  8. I love this movie. The scene in London where he says ‘I’m tired of remembering it that way” really hit me. It made me think of parts of my life that I’m tired of being bitter about. It just hit me.

  9. Good Review. I’m surprised you gave the movie an A- grade with what you said in “The Bad.” I would give the film a B+. If you haven’t seen the documentary The Boys: The Sherman Brothers’ Story (2009), check it out. It will surprise you and has lots of excellent extras.

    • Thanks! Despite my criticisms, I did still really like the film. I hadn’t even heard of this documentary though! I’m going to have to look into it. Thanks for the tip!

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