Thursday, December 26, 2013

REVIEW: ‘Saving Mr. Banks’ captures heart behind classic children’s story

“Saving Mr. Banks”

Starring Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks

Directed by John Lee Hancock

“Saving Mr. Banks” is the story behind the making of the 1964 hit film “Mary Poppins.” It is a tale of classic conflict between the author of the book, P.L. Travers, and movie magnate Walt Disney.

Travers (Emma Thompson) is very defensive of her book and determined not to allow her story to become on screen a typical Disney spectacular. On the other side is Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) bending over backward to accommodate Travers and unable at first to convince her that making a movie is a different venture than writing a book, even when the movie is based on a book.

But “Saving Mr. Banks” is about more than the typical conflict between a writer and a filmmaker; it is the story of a conflict within the writer herself, as Travers has constant flash backs to her difficult childhood in Australia highlighted by memories of her father (Colin Farrell), whom she adores despite his acute alcoholism. And why not? The author’s father (whose name is Travers Goff) is warm to his children (especially to the author herself) and even an attentive husband, despite a fatal strain of alcoholism.

The significance of the movie is the revelation that the story of Mary Poppins was (and is) an autobiographical work. This was by no means conventional wisdom when the film premiered in 1964 and until the making of “Saving Mr. Banks” was a fact very much neglected.

And who was Mary Poppins? She was the author’s Aunt Ellie (Rachel Griffiths) and the sister of the author’s mother, Margaret Goff (Ruth Wilson). Of course, she did not fly in courtesy of an umbrella. But through the eyes of a child, her appearance at the troubled home of the author’s family was so transforming that it was as if she had flown in.

Back to the 1961 movie negotiations, the author Travers is next to impossible. She is hypersensitive to any innovation that would in the least compromise the book. Insistent upon the film not being a musical, it is like pulling teeth to get Travers to agree to each and every song in the movie.

But if Travers is wary of “Mary Poppins” being made into a musical, she is hostile to the idea of the movie being animated. And when she learns of a bit of animation featuring dancing penguins, Travers storms out on the movie and returns home to England (without having released the rights to the story to Disney).

Disney himself follows Travers back to England, showing up at her door in London in the dead of night. Thompson and Hanks show great acting ability in this scene, as the chemistry between the author and the filmmaker is palpable.

Most compelling about this scene (and perhaps the movie itself) is how Disney quietly assures Travers that he is going to treat her story with the utmost care. And he is able to do this when he communicates to the author his understanding that it is Mr. Banks (based on the author’s father), rather than Mary Poppins, of whom Travers is most protective.

Disney is very insightful in his knowledge that the author must protect Mr. Banks as a sympathetic character in a way she was not able to do as a child — thus, the story of “Saving Mr. Banks.”

It is a very moving story and could even be described as an emotional rollercoaster. But the quality of the movie is constant and is not a rollercoaster ride.

In “Saving Mr. Banks,” director John Lee Hancock has delivered a triumphant film with no shortage of the human element.

This article was written by John O'Neill for Digital First media, reprinted with permission.

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