The journey to making ‘Mary Poppins’, one of the most popular Disney movies all time, was a very bumpy road. It took Walt Disney twenty years to convince PL Travers to sign the rights away to her beloved character, but little did he know, she was selling a lot more than just the rights to her book. She was selling herself, her family, and a part of her past, and didn’t want to see it turned into a mockery. At least, that’s what ‘Saving Mr. Banks’, Disney’s newest live action film about the making of ‘Mary Poppins’, would have you believe. The problem is, the movie seems more self congratulatory than it does sincere at times, which hinders what could actually be an excellent film, into just a good film.
PL Travers is a tough woman who has an unpleasant past. But to help ease those pains, she wrote a set of books that helped her let certain people in her life live on, but in doing so she’s holding onto the past. So for her, nothing could be more irritating than having Walt Disney, one of the most influential and powerful men in the world, hounding her for the rights to her character, Mary Poppins. But when Travers’ money begins to run dry, she’s forced to finally take Disney’s offer into consideration, and the journey to the making of the film begins.
The big talk around this movie, not just about its subject matter, is the casting. For the first time, we’re seeing someone step into the shoes of Walt Disney, attempting to bring the man to life. So of course for that, you need a high caliber actor, and there’s no one better than Tom Hanks to take a swing at the role. Hanks is very good in the role, but the problem is, he’s not excellent in it. It’s so hard to see past the fact that it’s Tom Hanks, that you have a hard time seeing Walt. He’s got the speech patters of Walt down, but the voice isn’t there, and it’s hard to separate the two men. That doesn’t make Hanks performance any less good though, he’s quite good, but it’s hard not to imagine what the role might have been like given to an actor with less of a name, who could more fully disappear into the role.
Emma Thompson on the other hand is wonderful, and downright perfect, as PL Travers. Thompson never ceases to amaze me, and once again she is totally lost in character here. From the look, to the voice, the way she talks, she completely embodies Travers. She’s a joy to watch. But in a movie with Tom Hanks and Thompson, it’s hard to believe that any other actor could stand out above the rest, but that’s actually the case here. The supporting actors, from BJ Novak, Paul Giamatti, and Jason Schwartzman all shine in their different roles, but it’s Colin Farrell as PL Travers father, Goff, that really steals the movie. Every time Farrell is on the screen, he captivates the audience and is just incredible to watch. He is given so much to do and work with, it’s too bad that his role may go overlooked by so many. He’s a great actor, and seeing him get the chance to really standout and shine here was great.
While all the acting is very good across the board, it’s the story where the movie really has its problems. Doing a dual narrative is always hard, because something will always suffer in the process. While the making of ‘Mary Poppins’ is happening, we continue flashing back to Travers’ past, and what influenced her to write these books. The problem is, other than Travers and her father, we don’t get to know anyone else in the movie that’s supposed to be of significance. Her mother is basically left to sit and be sad, starring off into the distance, with no emotional arc whatsoever. So when a pivotal scene between her and Travers happens, you’re left feeling nothing but uncomfortable, because you have no stock in the character and why you should care about what’s happening. The same goes with Travers’ aunt, who is the basis for Mary herself. She’s in very few scenes in the film, and we really don’t get to know her, which makes you wonder why exactly she is the basis of the character. There should have been more time spent with these people, letting us get to know them and their influence over Travers.
But don’t let those things turn you off of the movie. There’s plenty of great things too. In particular, all the scenes featuring PL Travers, The Sherman Brothers, and Don DeGradi are all excellent, and the highlights of the film. The best scene comes between Robert Sherman and Travers, where Bob has had it with her attitude, and finally calls her out. It’s a tense, funny, and excellent scene, but it really shows what they dealt with trying to even get the movie greenlit. It was an uphill battle from the beginning, and it’s one they’re lucky they won. The scenes between Travers and Walt are all also very good, especially one of their final scenes in London being one of the most beautiful and moving scenes in the whole film.
When ‘Saving Mr. Banks’ is at its best, it’s wonderful. A moving, fun, and heartwarming picture. But when it’s at its worst, it feels jumbled, and not always sincere. The movie stands out from its great performances, with Colin Farrell stealing the film from everyone around him. It’s just too bad the story didn’t play out better for certain characters, because it could have a made a good movie great.