A year before The Sound of Music, in 1964, Julie Andrews starred as the mysterious, magical nanny who floated in from the sky in Disney’s beloved children’s film Mary Poppins. Now, nearly 50 years later, Saving Mr Banks takes us behind the scenes to show us the drama that went into getting the film made.
After stubbornly refusing for years to part with the film rights to Mary Poppins, in 1961 author PL Travers (Emma Thompson) finally agreed to fly from her home in London to Hollywood, to meet Walt Disney (Tom Hanks in full charmer mode) who’d been relentlessly coaxing her to change her mind. Of course you know he’s going to succeed eventually, but the real fun of Saving Mr Banks lies in the irony that the woman who created the nanny with the talking umbrella was herself a cantankerous cow.
Thompson is terrific as Travers, who’s rude to her chauffeur (Paul Giamatti), dismissive of everything that songwriters Richard and Robert Sherman (Jason Schwartzman and BJ Novak) come up with, and has no interest to make a trip to Disneyland with the man who created it. Through flashbacks we learn the source of her bitterness: a childhood full of emotional pain, stemming from a loving but alcoholic father (Colin Farrell). When Disney himself connects the dots, and understands that Mary Poppins is much more than just a character Travers created, he figures out how to win her over.
Not everything in the film is spit-spot though – there are too many flashbacks to the author’s childhood in Australia, and the script shrewdly smoothens out the sharper edges in the Travers-Disney relationship. A cursory glance at Wikipedia confirms that the author got into an argument with Disney at the premiere of Mary Poppins over her displeasure at how the film had turned out, but Saving Mr Banks suggests it was the movie itself that had moved her to tears that night.
Like all Disney films, this one too is doused in a vat of good-natured sweetness and sprinkled with a helping of schmaltz. Yet the film is eminently watchable whenever Thompson is on screen. As the forever snapping Mrs Travers – she refuses to be addressed with even the slightest hint of familiarity, no Pam or Pamela will do, thank you very much – she nevertheless brings wit and charm to a film that could’ve done with a little less sugar to make the medicine go down.
I’m going with three out of five for Saving Mr Banks. It’s not one for the ages, but you’ll come out feeling all warm and fuzzy.

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