Mr. Banks’ sentimentality saved by excellent acting

Saving Mr. Banks lifts back the curtains on the beloved award-winning live-action musical movie Mary Poppins to show how the film came into fruition, or so the plot summary may deceive you to believe.

The film is an exploration of the author of Mary Poppins book series, P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson, Wit), and how Walt Disney (Tom Hanks, Forrest Gump) coerced her into signing off on the movie rights to the film. The relationship between the two is a tumultuous one, spanning twenty years of Disney badgering the author to give him the rights.

The film actually begins  when Travers is forced to travel to Los Angeles in 1961 to finally give in to the filmmaker after running  out of royalty money from her books. The archetypal English women could not be more displeased about her position or good old boy Walt Disney, who she imagines will just make her character from a stern nanny into a silly one that sings and dances. She constantly reminds the team that Poppins is the enemy of sentiment and whimsy.

The movie peppers beautiful, nostalgic flashbacks of Travers’ Australian childhood in 1906 to break up the battle for the rights. These scenes are framed as the authors’ own memories of a simpler time when P.L. Travers was just Helen Lyndon Goff, or, as little Ginty, the nicknamed lovingly bestowed upon her by her father, bank manager Travers Robert Goff (Coline Farrell, Total Recall).

These memories permit the audience to fall in love with the charming, handsome alcoholic who always encouraged fantasy and escapism from the real world, but whose inability to deal with reality caused harsh times and horrible situations for his family, the Goff household falls into disarray until her mother’s sister, the inspiration for Mary Poppins, comes to restore order.

Unfortunately, as this is a Disney film, everything needs a happy ending, or at least one that paints the company and its former employees and projects in a good light. A spoon full of sugar is added to the film to  give it the magical Disney touch, with Walt Disney saving the day and an emotional P.L. Travers who is obviously very moved by her book’s adaptation.

Yet, it is widespread knowledge that Travers absolutely hated the film and refused to have the Sherman brothers work on a musical version of the story. The film company loves  their founder and made him look like the good guy, who reached out to help an emotional fraught woman. The sentimental feelings evoked during the premiere showing of Mary Poppins actually spoiled the movie a bit, knowing the true outcome.

Of course, the authenticity of the ending does not detract from the genuine emotions brought by the conclusion of the author’s emotional journey of confronting her past.

Emma Thompson is absolutely sublime in the role of P.L. Travers.  A lady who appears to be misanthropic, but is guided by her past and very much alone.

Tom Hanks’ performance is comparable, but is really is the pair’s gradual growth and acceptance and understanding of each other that stands out.

The attention to detail in this film is pretty incredible, even taking into account Walt Disney’s illnesses during this period of time, having him coughing intermittently, signaling the end of his life, which was said to be exasperated by his constant fighting with Travers during the production of Mary Poppins.

Despite the sugar coating Saving Mr. Banks adds to the real-life events, the film manages to toe the balance between being outright sappy and sentimental. Excellent performances make the film well worth watching.

Our Take: 4/5