Emma Thompson Takes Command in “Saving Mr. Banks, But Add a Grain of Salt to the Spoonful of Sugar in This “Mary Poppins” Tale

Emma Thompson takes command in an Oscar-worthy performance as P.L. Travers in “Saving Mr. Banks”. Travers sold the “Mary Poppins” film rights to Walt Disney after 20 years of being pursued. But make no mistake, “Saving Mr. Banks” is not a documentary. This is a story that has been loosely inspired by a true event.

 

P.L. Travers (Thompson) finally considers the offer of Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) to make “Mary Poppins” into a film. She is in financial straits, with no other income in sight. However, she’s very protective of the nanny she created, and travels to Los Angeles from London on a two-week trip, unconvinced that she will be yielding the story rights.

Travers is met by driver Ralph (the always wonderful Paul Giamatti in a role created for the film), who tells Travers that the sun came out just for her. Travers doesn’t appreciate the comment, nor the “chlorine and sweat” she smells as she exits LAX. It’s obvious she isn’t going to be an easy woman to deal with.

Arriving at the Beverly Hills Hotel, this author who detests the thought of Disney taking over her Mary Poppins character is humorously inundated with gifts that remind her why she wasn’t interested in the first place.

Walt Disney plays a prominent role in “Saving Mr. Banks”, though he may not have been so involved in real life. Tom Hanks is better in the role than I expected, though not as immersive as I’d like. The talented Richard Sherman (Jason Schwartzman) and Robert Sherman (B.J. Novak) were in charge with Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford), of leading the story meetings with the stubborn P.L. Travers. Travers did insist on taping these meetings, and some of the real recorded comments are played in the end credits. The scenes with the Shermans are my favorites in the film. Schwartzman is a joy to watch as he brings Richard Sherman to the screen, molding the songs that would outline the story for “Mary Poppins”. There is a lot of humor to be found here. Thompson has a quick wit in real life, and plays the sharp-tongued Travers with aplomb. Apparently P.L. Travers was even more difficult to work with in real life than shown in “Saving Mr. Banks”. Richard Sherman did consult on the film, and I expect the scenes with the Shermans are among the most accurate in the film due to that – and the tapes.

Spliced in with the 1960’s Los Angeles story is turn-of-the-century Australia, hearkening back to when Travers was a child. Contrasted to the relatively light and bubbly 1960’s, these flashbacks attempt to show where Travers might have drawn the inspiration for “Mary Poppins”. Collin Farrell (Travers Goff) is at his best here, and Annie Rose Buckley lights up the screen as his daughter Ginty. Ruth Wilson (Margaret Goff) was seen this year in “The Lone Ranger” in what feels like a similar role. When they all boarded the train together, I wondered if it was the same locomotive as from the earlier film.

The flashback scenes were a bit long for me, and help earn “Saving Mr. Banks” it’s PG-13 rating. They deal with issues such as alcoholism and death, and kids may squirm a bit here. “Saving Mr. Banks” really isn’t a film for young children per se’, even though the story revolves around a book and film made for them.

In the end, Travers does sell the rights to “Mary Poppins”, though the fairytale toe-tap ending isn’t quite how it turned out. She even made the provision that no Americans should be involved in writing the stage production. However, Walt Disney made a film that has been beloved for 50 years, and that is the most important story to come out of “Saving Mr. Banks”. I hope that new generations of fans will seek out more information about the Sherman Brothers. Richard and Robert Sherman have been a part of everyone’s lives, even those who don’t know this talented duo by their names. I recommend the film “The Boys” to learn more about them. We’ve also picked up a couple of books to research the beginnings of Mary Poppins further.

You’ll be humming “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” when you leave the theater!

We had been invited to the “Saving Mr. Banks” press conference at the Beverly Hills Hotel a couple of months ago. It was really quite entertaining – the talented cast clearly had a lot of fun together. Here is our video from the conference.

Saving Mr. Banks: B

PG-13

Directed by John Lee Hancock

Screenwriters: Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith