Mary Poppins is a special film for me; it is one of those childhood films that I have watched countless times and so holds a special place in my film-loving heart. Because of this a film about the creation of the classic musical is not going to have to try very hard to win me over. That said I wasn’t expecting Saving Mr. Banks to get to me so much that I’d have to start keeping a tally of just how many times I had cried. From the opening moments when a piano played the film’s overture to the closing credits I was a mess.
Saving Mr. Banks covers the period in Disney’s development of Mary Poppins when the original novel’s author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) reluctantly travelled to Disney studios to work on the script and decide whether or not she would finally be willing to relinquish the rights. Travers did not want any singing or animation in the film and generally disapproved of any attempt to Disney-fy her book so screenwriter Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford) and songwriters the Sherman brothers (B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman) were given a hard time by a woman who was not afraid to speak her mind. Walt Disney himself (Tom Hanks) was heavily involved in the project as if he couldn’t get Travers to sell him the film right he would be breaking a promise he made to his daughter decades earlier.
Alongside the story of the making of the film we see flashbacks to Travers’ childhood and meet the inspiration for Mr Banks, her father Robert Goff Travers (Colin Farrell) and for Mary Poppins herself (Rachel Griffiths). While the scenes at Disney are mostly fun and played for laughs, as Travers’ British bulldog nature comes to clashes with the cheery American sensibility of Disney and friends, the childhood scenes gradually turn from lighthearted antics to an all more serious nature. By the end of the films things have all gone a little bit tragic as we see the real reason Travers wrote the book and why she is so defensive about any changes Disney wants to make.
This being a Disney film about Disney they obviously don’t come out too badly but they are brave enough to poke a little fun at themselves and their overly cheery nature. In one scene Travers says to a stuffed Winnie the Pooh bear “Poor A. A. Milne” which shows they aren’t censoring the real writer’s disdain for Disney adaptations. As for the cast, everyone is firing on all cylinders as Emma Thompson once more manages to break the whole audience’s heart simultaneously with a single subtle look, and even Colin Farrell pulls of both comedy and pathos convincingly. Worth noting that Paul Giamatti rounds out the cast as Travers’ chauffeur who slowly wins her over with his sunny charm.
The combination of the dramatic childhood scenes, the heartwarming period at Disney, and my own personal connection to the original film of Mary Poppins proved to be a little too much for me to handle. At five separate occasions I found myself welling up in spite of myself and tears were frequently falling down my cheeks. In the scene when Let’s Go Fly A Kite is first performed all three elements combined together and left me an emotional wreck. I consider myself as someone who very rarely cries at films but that one scene had me weeping like never before in a cinema. I just hope none of the other critics saw.
Would this film be of any interest to someone who hasn’t seen Mary Poppins? Probably not but as someone who considers the film and integral part of their childhood it is a completely subjective masterpiece that hit me in just the right spot to have me making a spectacle of myself in public.
One star for every moment I got all weepy.
Saving Mr. Banks is in UK cinemas on 29th November 2013.