Saving Mr. Banks
Dir. John Lee Hancock
Starring Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Colin Farrell, Paul Giamatti, Bradley Whitford, B.J. Novak, Jason Schwartzman, Annie Rose Buckley, Rachel Griffiths, Ruth Wilson
I am a sucker for a movie about movies. Hugo, Adaptation, Purple Rose of Cairo, Super 8, Seven Psychopaths, Ed Wood, Singin’ in the Rain, Sunset Blvd. all rank somewhere among my favourite films ever (it’s a long and indiscriminate list that changes weekly).
Saving Mr. Banks, about the adaptation of P.L. Travers’s Mary Poppins into the 1964 Disney musical starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke, isn’t quite as great as the films mentioned above, but it’s touching, informative and sweet. Sometimes too sweet.
Saving Mr. Banks is a Disney movie about a Disney movie. If you’re looking for a movie that’ll rip Walt Disney apart or paint him in a negative light, Saving Mr. Banks does none of that. Disney is a creative genius and one of the most popular men in the world who also happens to be the nicest boss ever in Saving Mr. Banks. All he wants is to fulfill the promise he made to his daughters 20 years ago that he would make their beloved Mary Poppins book into a movie.
Saving Mr. Banks takes place over the course of a few days; it starts when P.L. Travers flies to Los Angeles to meet with Walt Disney about selling the rights to her book and characters, a meeting Disney has been trying to have with the author for two decades. She meets with the writers and Disney himself to make sure everything is to her liking. She’s adamant: there will be no deal unless she’s satisfied with what the writers have come up with. She has a lot of rules: no animation and no songs. And if the rumours about Dick Van Dyke being cast are true, she will have none of that.
There are flashbacks to the author’s childhood and the supposed events that inspired Mary Poppins and the characters with a performance by Colin Farrell that is reminiscent of Johnny Depp’s in Finding Neverland. It’s a highlight of the film, along with the performances by Emma Thompson as Travers, Tom Hanks as Disney, Bradley Whitford as Don DaGradi, one of the writers, and Paul Giamatti, Travers’s driver during her time in L.A.
I’m not spoiling anything when I say she makes concessions: Dick Van Dyke is in the movie, and it ended up being a musical. And there is some animation. Travers was difficult to work with and Saving Mr. Banks makes no secret of it; but I didn’t think that was nearly as unnerving as everyone around her, apparently working tirelessly to accommodate her demands, as if it would be outrageous for them to respect Travers’s artistic vision. I couldn’t help but think about other writers who do or may fork over the rights to their works when money is thrown at them. Adaptations are processes, and Travers’s reluctance and relentlessness is the most inspiring part of Saving Mr. Banks, even though the movie tried to make her into a villain.
Ultimately, Saving Mr. Banks is about art and movies and their healing power. It’s a message I’d find nauseating or self-serving if I didn’t believe in it so strongly myself.