For the past few years Disney and Mary Poppins fans have been anticipating the arrival of the movie Saving Mr. Banks. There is a tremendous amount of words being set to page about this movie right now, and it is generally well liked – though it does have its detractors. I can’t begin to tell you how good that is for a film like this. I’ve seen Mary Poppins countless times (Star Wars: A New Hope being the only movie I’ve seen more), read the book (though not in some time, that needs to change), and even read some works about P. L. Travers herself. That said, this isn’t a movie about Mary Poppins and if you think it is before having seen it, then you’re going to see quite a different movie then you’re expecting.
This is not a subtle movie in any way. It will beat you senseless with its message while trying to mask itself with the appearance of subtlety. Don’t get me wrong that doesn’t make it a bad movie at all. In fact, I think it’s a fantastic movie. One third of the movie is told in flashbacks to the life of P. L. Travers growing up as Helen Goff in Australia. They are portrayed as wispy and almost dreamlike – thanks in part to the filter used on the camera. Much like a dream. Combine that with the way the relationship between Walt Disney and Travers is told and you can begin to see the magic of this film.
As my brain groked what I’ve seen on the screen I realized that the story itself is an illusion. It’s a dream. And, as with most dreams, the roles that you see people portraying are not necessarily the people they represent. Shift around the roles of the players a bit and you’ll realize that the more correct title for this film is Saving Mrs. Travers.
Getting two actors who are well known character actors and setting them against each other was a stroke of genius. Tom Hanks as Walt Disney is by no means perfect, but his mannerisms, stance, and appeal are all captured and I do not think another actor could have done as well a job with such a beloved individual. Emma Thompson does an amazing job as Travers. Having spent numerous hours listening to the archival studio session tapes of meetings between Travers and various Disney employees, she tried to capture the emotional distress of Travers. She even had her own hair styled to match Travers rather than using a wig.
What really brought it all home for me though was listening to an interview with Jason Schwartzman and Richard Sherman. Unlike Hanks and Thompson who had to study their roles by studying the past, Schwartzman was able to sit down and talk with the man he’d be portraying. The two had spent countless hours together throughout the making of this film. In the studio, Sherman was a consultant for all the “script room” scenes in the movie. He has talked about how surreal and emotional many of the scenes were for him – seeing moments from his own life recreated.
Like is so often true for movies about topics and historical moments that have already been picked to pieces extensively, this film will not be for everyone. In fact, it’s probably not a movie for the most hard core of fans – they’re not even the target audience. Saving Mr. Banks is meant to tell the tale of how Mary Poppins almost didn’t get made in a way that is meant to appeal to the most general of audiences. Keep in mind that this is not a family movie by any means, and you probably do not want to bring your small children to see it as there’s little in it for them – hence the PG-13 rating.
In addition to doing the web design and programming for the On the Go in MCO website, Todd Perlmutter is a host for the Disney Film Project Podcast. You can join him and his fellow hosts for Episode 156 where they will discuss the movie Saving Mr. Banks.Share this article:
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