Saving Mr. Banks tells the true story of two weeks in 1961 when Walt Disney and Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers met in Beverly Hills to discuss the rights to Ms. Travers wonderful book. Now there have been a number of liberties taken by director John Lee Hancock and screenwriters Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith BUT the gist of the story is true. In actual reality, when Pamela (P.L. Travers) came to Los Angeles to meet with Mr. Disney, the Sherman Brothers song team and scriptwriter, Don DaGradi, she had already signed over the rights but was still hammering out the details of the script. When Saving Mr. Banks opens, she has yet to sign anything over. Her dwindling residuals from all of her books have put her into a tough position so that she HAS to do something. The rest of the film is how it happened. Most of Saving Mr. Banks is primarily based on eyewitness account, and personal correspondence between Travers and Disney via phone or letters. Her driver, Ralph (Paul Giamatti) is fictional, as Travers had several different drivers while she was in America, but one man named Bill Dover, a storyboard editor, was her assigned primary companion while she was in California.
Having covered these details, I can simply say Saving Mr. Banks is a total delight. Emma Thompson as the prickly P. L. Travers, has the right amount of negative passion so that we can understand her concerns. Thompson’s performance is Oscar worthy (although Saving Mr. Banks was nominated for Best Score, ONLY) as she precariously balances herself between a nervous breakdown and trying to make a film she can live with. Her life is seen as flashbacks with her loving father and a mother who loves her, but knows or at least suspects Pamela loves her dad more. Her father was Travers Goff, a banker with a penchant for booze and a man whose head is in the clouds; a dreamer. Colin Farrell is Travers at a young age. Handsome and very doting on his girls, he is a consummate screw up who is always being let go for any number of reasons. Farrell’s work here, is the best of his career and to me, that is saying something. He is a fine and underused actor. Which brings me to Tom Hanks ( in real life Hanks is a distant relative to Walt Disney) as Mr. Walt Disney. So many people have said that, upon seeing this film, he was a liar and a bully. I don’t know what film they watched, but I saw a kind generous business man who wanted to bring a classic book to the big screen. Ms. Travers had problems with just about EVERY detail that Disney wanted to include in the film, “No animation, no color red”, were two of the most stringent demands that Ms. Travers had. “That dreadful Dick Van Dyke will not do”, Pamela spits out upon her first sit down with the Sherman Brothers and DaGradi. “But he is a classic’, the three chime in. Pamela laughs, “No, don’t be ridiculous. Olivier is a classic. Guiness is a classic. Mr. Van Dyke is MOST CERTAINLY NOT a classic. He won’t do at all.” Walt is concerned but he feels he is charming enough to convince Pamela otherwise. Hanks shows why he is at the top of the Hollywood elites in acting. His performance is real and sincere down to Mr. Disney’s mannerisms and how he even stood in a room. Hanks is simply wonderful; kind and genuine. The supporting cast of Bradley Whitford as Don DaGradi, B.J. Novak and Jason Scwartzman as the Sherman Brothers, Ruth Wilson as Travers’ long suffering wife, Paul Giamatti, Rachel Griffiths (as Aunt Ellie who was the inspiration of the character, Mary Poppins) and Kathy Baker as Mr. Disney’s associate are all terrific and enhance this film even more. Director Hancock and the script writing team have made a film filled with good cheer (despite some of the tragic elements that shaped Pamela’s life) and a lot of heart. The film deals with life, loss and how it affects us through our childhood and even into our adult years and it does it with poignant grace. It will make you laugh and cry and you will never watch Mary Poppins with the same eyes when you see Saving Mr. Banks.
The fact that Saving Mr. Banks was not nominated for anything EXCEPT Thomas Newman’s tremendous score (and it did not even win that) is mind blowing. How could they not see this was one of the best films of 2013? It is! There were ludicrous statements made that Hanks had already been nominated enough but that apparently did not stop them from nominating Meryl Streep for the 18th time. For whatever the reason, Saving Mr. Banks is a delicious treat for the entire family and it will run the gambit with your emotions, but you will love every minute of it. This is a truly great film.
Saving Mr. Banks-**** out of 4