Based on the true story, Emma Thompson stars as P.L. Travers – the creator and author of Mary Poppins. It’s 1961 and Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) has spent 20 years trying to convince Travers to let him make the movie version of her popular, endearing books. However, that seems like a fate worse than death to the author, who doesn’t want to see Mary Poppins Disneyfied beyond recognition.
Now that she is facing some financial difficulties, Travers is making the trip to Hollywood to discuss the movie, but there’s a catch. She hasn’t signed the final paperwork, and won’t until she gets approval over the script, casting, music and, well, everything (she doesn’t like that Dick Van Dyke guy). Winning her over is the task Walt Disney is taking on with gusto, and might live to regret.
Get ready for a movie about the magic, heartbreak and frustration of making a movie, along with some of the best acting performances of the year because Saving Mr. Banks is one of those special films that fires up your love of movies and storytelling.
Most of the big buzz about Saving Mr. Banks has been the performance of Hanks as Disney (and we’ll get to that), but Saving Mr. Banks fails if Thompson isn’t brilliant. And, as we know, she is brilliant.
Thompson makes Travers a prickly soul who is partly overbearing, and partly understandable as we see the reasons why she is so protective of Mary Poppins. It’s not easy to get laughs and empathy from being a tough as nails, pushy person who demands greatness and shows a willingness to debate every facet of every detail, but Thompson delivers.
Some will say those great moments are the ones where Thompson shows us Travers letting her guard down or as we watch years of pain melt away as she slightly warms to the whole project, but I think her greatest moments are the ones where she’s tough as nails. It’s a lovable ferocity to protect something of great importance. It matters, so she will defend it.
Then, we have the surprise performance by Colin Farrell, who is magnificent as Travers’ father. If you have followed his career, Farrell has shown ability, so that’s not the surprise. The surprise is that he is the anchor of the storyline that could easily be the big stinker in Saving Mr. Banks.
Farrell stuns as the lovable rogue spiraling out of control, and he makes the man into a complicated, beautiful soul who needs to get his life together, but has such a deep love of his daughter that you root for this guy to be better. He gives the father a rosy outlook covering over a tangible air of sadness that grows as Saving Mr. Banks moves towards the big revelations about this family.
Yes, Hanks is wonderful as Disney with the typical and expected gladhanding, boisterous personality and displaying abilities to be the perfectly salesman with the big pitch, but he also brings a warmth and humanity to the legend in the many times Disney must explain to Travers why he wants to make this movie and what they share together. It’s the perfect Hanks performance that finds that one moment where you are just blown away and keep talking about it for years.
Even the smaller roles are filled by actors who amaze including Paul Giamatti as the driver who always tries to cheer up Travers with his defense mechanisms as she unloads negativity and anger at him. Giamatti shows us the guy knows he isn’t all that powerful in this world, but he makes the most out of it as he works for a company he likes and has a good reason to get up and go to work each day. He has great chemistry with Thompson, and you could almost make an entire movie out that relationship. Maybe Saving Mr. Banks 2? No, that would be a bad idea.
Long time fans of Mary Poppins will be amazed and amused by the development of the script and songs, some of the trivia behind it all and Travers’s reactions to some of the most beloved memories we all have of the movie, and that’s what makes it special. Make sure you stick around through the credits. You get to see and hear a little bit of the real story.
Saving Mr. Banks is rated PG-13 for thematic elements including some unsettling images