We were predisposed to like this film, as we are huge fans of all things Disney and enthusiastic fans of the movie “Mary Poppins.” But this film surpassed our expectations. The basic plot is the story of how Walt Disney convinced P.L. Travers, the author of the Mary Poppins series of books to let him make a movie from the books. Clearly, we all know how the story ends, given the enduring popularity of the movie.
But “Saving Mr. Banks” is more than just how a Hollywood movie mogul convinced a children’s author to license the movie rights. The movie delves into the traumatic childhood of P.L. Travers (her father was an alcoholic) and how she coped with his struggles. Emma Thompson does a marvelous job creating a curmudgeonly author who is over-protective of her family (her books) and who adamantly opposes her books being made into either a musical or an animated movie. She is gradually won over, less by Walt Disney, and more by the Sherman brothers and the scriptwriter, at least, until the climax of the movie.
Tom Hanks plays Walt Disney with a benign touch, although you see glimpses of the iron fist underneath the genial exterior. But he, too, reveals his complexity of character, combining charm with a touch of manipulation and the revelation of his own difficult childhood.
Be sure and stay through the credits. The movie plays the actual audiotapes of P.L. Travers discussing the script with the Disney folks. (I think they do it just to be make sure you know they weren’t exaggerating her cantankerousness.)
“Saving Mr. Banks” is an extraordinarily touching movie about two very different people finding healing and closure in the making of the “Mary Poppins” movie. The two main characters are well fleshed out and are complex characters. The secondary characters are well-acted. I can see why the movie has generated such a buzz. I do think much of the complexity of the characters and the nuanced relationships between the characters went over the heads of our two kids, so while they liked the movie, it didn’t resonate with them as much as it did with us. The grownups enthusiastically give the movie two excellent thumbs up, and the kids give the movie two very good thumbs up!