Over 70 years ago, Walt Disney made a promise to his young daughters that he’d bring Mary Poppins to life. Walt unwilling to disappoint his girls, spent the next 20 years trying to fulfill that promise. The major obstacle was the right to the stories, which was closely guarded by the author of the Mary Poppins stories, P.L. Travers.
Saving Mr. Banks is not the story of how Mary Poppins was made, but that of Mrs Travers learning to let go of the burdens of her past. Travers reluctantly agrees to consider selling the rights to Walt Disney after dwindling sales of her books leaves her strapped for cash. The film spans mostly a two week period in 1961 when Mrs. Travers flew from her home in London to Los Angeles to collaborate with co-screenwriter Don DaGardi, and the Sherman Brothers, Richard and Robert.
During the course of the movie we are taken back and forth between Travers’ memories of her childhood in Australia and the story meetings in Los Angeles. Mary Poppins was indeed real and very personal to Mrs. Travers, as such she was terrified that Mr. Disney would make her be cavorting and twinkling in a film careening towards a happy ending like a kamikaze. The flashback scenes provide the audience with insight into why Mrs. Travers is so protective of Mary Poppins.
Emma Thompson provides what should amount to an award winning performance as Mrs. P.L. Travers. From interviews with fellow cast mates, it sounds like Thompson became Mrs Travers when the cameras were rolling, and would apologize for being so mean when the scene was cut.
In a day in age where so many people have a clear picture and memories of Walt Disney in their minds, I cannot image a tougher role for an actor to portray than Walt Disney. However, Tom Hank wore the Smoke Tree Ranch pin admirably. You can tell Hanks also put in the time for his role by researching Walt’s unique mannerism, walk and most importantly the way he spoke. It is now only a matter of time until Tom Hanks is recognized as a true Disney Legend.
Jason Schwartzman takes Richard Sherman’s seat at the piano next to brother Robert played by BJ Novak. These two bring a comedic element to the film and are the same age as the Richard and Robert were in 1961. Schwartzman was quite capable of playing the piano prior to landing the role, and was fortunate enough to take lessons from Disney Legend Richard Sherman to really nail the part. Bradley Whitford fills the shoes as longtime Disney animator turned scriptwriter, Don DaGardi. Paul Giamatti is the only fictional character that was added to Saving Mr. Banks. Giamiatti played the always friendly Ralph, Mrs. Travers’ limousine driver who brings out another side that we do not see in the flashback nor the story meetings.
One of the roles that seems to be overlooked is Colin Farrell as Travers Goff, a trouble bank manager who uses whimsy to hide from his alcoholism. P.L. Travers birth name was Helen Goff; Travers Goff was her loving father who she adored and ultimately inspired the title character, Mr Banks.
Thomas Newman composed a moving score score that is intermixed with the memorable songs from the Sherman Brothers. Newman created quite the contrast between Los Angeles and the flashback scenes in Australia. The Saving Mr. Banks soundtrack is available in a standard and deluxe versions with the latter including original demos from the Sherman Brothers and the famous songs from the cast of Mary Poppins. Mrs. Travers required that the story sessions were recorded, of which 6 hours were provided to the filmmakers from Disney’s Archives for use in the development on Saving Mr. Banks. Excerpts from these tapes can be heard on the Mary Poppins 2004 special edition soundtrack release and during the end credits of Saving Mr. Banks.
Walt Disney Pictures created a free iBook available Saving Mr. Banks: The Official Muli-Touch Book that explores the extraordinary, previously untold story, and includes interviews, photos, correspondences between Mrs Travers and Walt Disney and even a look at the early treatment of the screenplay. It is your call if you read this before or after seeing the film. I waited until after, but I did not really see anything that would spoil the movie if I were to have read it over prior.
Overall, Saving Mr. Banks is an emotional film that takes a behind the scenes look at a movie that was almost never made if not for a common bond between two storytellers that ultimately allowed Travers’ to let go of her beloved Mary Poppins. It should be pointed out that this is not a documentary of the making of Mary Poppins, nor a biopic of the life of Mrs. P.L. Travers. Saving Mr. Banks is a drama inspired by the actual events that took place prior to the filming of Mary Poppins. Saving Mr. Banks is a must see for not just Mary Poppins fans, but all Disney fans.
Saving Mr. Banks will open nation wide on Friday, December 20, 2013, and is rated PG-13 for thematic elements including some unsettling images. The Saving Mr. Banks Blu-ray is available to pre-order from Amazon.
Mary Poppins 50th Anniversary Blu-Ray Release
On December 10th, Disney released Mary Poppins for the very first time on Blu-ray in a 50th Anniversary Edition. The film not only looks amazing, but sounds even better! The previously released DVD bonus features such as Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious: The Making of Mary Poppins are also included along with a new feature called Mary-Oke, a series karaoke videos in the form of of kinetic typography. The hidden gem on the Mary Poppins Blu-ray release is the Becoming Mr. Sherman. The short video features a sit down with Richard Sherman and Jason Schwartzman, the actor portraying him in Saving Mr. Banks. It felt out of place on the Mary Poppins release, but does provide a sneak peak into the new film and hopefully a glimpse at some of the bonus content that may be included on the Saving Mr. Banks blu-ray release.
Saving Mr Banks Practically Perfect Preview
The Disney Parks Blog held a screening of Saving Mr. Banks Friday night at Disney Hollywood Studios complete with fresh popcorn, pre-movie trivia contest and some great trailers for The Muppets Most Wanted, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, DisneyNature’s Bears, and Maleficent! Following the film we were given the opportunity to experience a recreation of the 1964 premier of Mary Poppins at the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre outside the Great Movie Ride.
The red carpet was rolled out with two separate meet and greet lines. To the left guests could meet with Mary Poppins and one of the Penguins. On the right hand side Bert and a fellow chimney sweep were greeting guests following a recent chimney cleaning.
It turned out to be a practically perfect evening evening at Hollywood Studios with the preview screening of Saving Mr. Banks, and unique meet and greet opportunity thanks to the Disney Parks Blog team!