Despite the mediocre reviews, this is a film I’ve been waiting to see since the first time I saw the trailer. That’s because, like countless numbers of people, I owe so much to Walt Disney. With the exception of The Sound of Music, no films or TV shows had a greater impact on my childhood (and the adventurous life I chose to live) than Disney’s films and Sunday afternoon TV show. Sure, I regularly criticize Disney for introducing the myth of redemptive violence to children through its animated films. And sure, not all of what I learned from watching Disney shows was positive. And sure, the commercialism around Disney shows drives me cray. But I still believe that the world would have been a far poorer place had Walt Disney not been in it. He gave me much for which I am very grateful.
Mary Poppins is one of those gifts Disney gave us. While it is not one of my favourite Disney films, it contains wonderful songs written by Bob and Dick Sherman that I listened to for years, and how can anyone not love Dick van Dyke and Julie Andrews? So a film about the making of Mary Poppins and Walt’s frustrations with Pamela Travers, the author of the book on which it is based, was something I had to see, especially as it starred Tom Hanks as Disney and Emma Thompson as Travers.
What makes Saving Mr. Banks special, however, is not the acting of Hanks and Thompson (though they certainly don’t disappoint), but the intermittent flashback story of Travers’ childhood in Australia, where Colin Farrell has the major acting role (along with an excellent performance by Annie Rose Buckley as the young girl who would one day use the name Pamela Travers). It is here we learn the background to the story of Mary Poppins (including why saving Mr. Banks is so important), and why Travers is such a nightmare to the folks at the Walt Dinsey Corporation in 1961, when they try to persuade her to sign the rights to filming her book.
Those folks at Disney include Bradley Whitford as Don DaGradi and Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak as the Sherman brothers and there are some marvellous scenes with them interacting with Travers. Paul Giamatti also has a great role as the man assigned to be Travers’ driver.
All in all, John Lee Hancock’s Saving Mr. Banks uses a wonderful ensemble cast, intelligent writing and great cinematography to tell a moving story about a film that has brought joy to countless millions of viewers. Saving Mr. Banks is not a perfect film by any means, giving up on any appeal to greatness both by sugar-coating the characters depicted in the film and by its schmaltzy sentimentality. But I never thought the film was pretending to provide an accurate history. So I loved it and give it a solid ***+. My mug is up.