Giving us a film about the creation of a film is always a risky approach, especially when the film that the second film is about is considered a classic. This is the basic idea behind John Lee Hancock’s Saving Mr. Banks.
The tale behind Mary Poppins is a long and storied one that precedes the 1964 film by about two decades. Initially extremely sceptical and unwilling to sign the writes to her beloved characters over, author P.L. Travers was flown to California by Walt Disney to assist and oversee the creation of the film – throwing spanners in the works wherever she could. Eventually, as these things go, Walt demonstrated a great deal of understanding and empathy to convince Mrs. Travers to sign the paper and make one of cinemas outstanding triumphs.
The casting of Saving Mr. Banks is a dream. If a wish list were put together for Walt Disney and P.L. Travers, it’d be a safe bet that Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson would be very near the top. They provide life into their characters and, especially Thompson; manage to make their characters extremely sympathetic. The supporting cast of Paul Giamatti’s driver Ralph, Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak as songwriters Richard and Robert Sherman respectively and Bradley Whitford as screenwriter Don DaGradi all provide a rich world whilst ensuring that Thompson and Hanks star.
Simultaneous to the main narrative arc, we’re learning about P.L. Travers’ childhood, specifically her relationship with her Father – played extremely well by Colin Farrell and the formation of the characters within her beloved novels. This is the weakest part of the film. Whilst a back-story is clearly required and important to the main arc, the point is rather hammered home through overuse.
Saving Mr. Banks is a very enjoyable film however provides no surprised and almost feels like it’s at home in a theatre within Disneyland – It’s inoffensive and seems to try hard to see that this is the case. Given some actual recordings of P.L. Travers that are played through the credits, there is clearly a story here to tell however probably not one which is as effervescent and light-hearted as this. Disney could be the only studio that could make this film however there is a line which they must walk to ensure that there isn’t a less than positive portrayal of anybody. It’s almost like the entire edges of the film have been rounded purposefully.
The risk of running as close to an undisputed classic as Mary Poppins for the entirety of its running time, including sampling the music, is that it makes you question why not just watch Mary Poppins. There is enjoyment to have from Saving Mr. Banks and while it lasts, it hits the right beats and remains entertaining and surprisingly funny enough to ensure that it’s worth seeing. However, Mary Poppins is a shadow that would take something truly breathtaking to step out of.