When I went in to see Saving Mr. Banks at a pre-screening, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I’d heard that it was a story between the woman who wrote Mary Poppins, P.L. Travers, and Walt Disney. That it was the process of turning her book into a movie. I thought there must be more to the plot than just that, because it didn’t sound super interesting. But at the end of the day, that’s really what the story is – and it’s done absolutely brilliantly. I was hooked the whole time, and found it to be really compelling and well told.
The movie basically weaves together the story of Mrs. Travers’ childhood growing up, and her two week stay in Los Angeles while consulting for the Mary Poppins movie. The transitions between flashbacks and modern day are seamless, and work really well on a number of levels, including symbolically. It was a fantastic way to tell the story. There is some great imagery and metaphors used throughout, and I appreciated the literary elements they incorporated to really help tell the story.
What also helps the film is that there is great acting from everyone here, but Emma Thompson especially does an phenomenal job as Travers. She’s funny, and does a great job of showing us Travers’ somewhat harsh, critical side – but she allows herself to also be vulnerable at times in a very moving way. Tom Hanks does a great job as well, but this is really Thompson’s movie. Walt is a secondary player in this plot, which is something I was actually grateful for once I saw the film. Since it’s Disney they could have tried to make it more about Walt, but they didn’t. They made it about P.L. Travers, and it worked that way.
One of the things my husband asked me as we were watching was, “Who is supposed to be the protagonist here?” And that’s one of the coolest things about the movie – there is no “good guy” or “bad guy.” Travers comes off as stuck up and almost insufferable initially, but as the movie progresses you see more of her life and she becomes more sympathetic. Walt Disney is pretty loveable throughout the film, but he does make some comments or decisions that are a bit harsh, though true to reality. The characters in this movie, for the most part, are just very real people.
It also produced a range of emotions in me. The whole movie was a heck of a lot funnier than I expected. I found myself laughing a lot, and very legitimate laughs, not just a chuckle or two. Travers was portrayed (and accurately, it seems) as very adamant against certain things, but she had a hilariously biting British wit in doing so. But while it was funny, the movie was also able to move me to tears. Anything that can make me both laugh and cry automatically gets big points from me.
I’m not going to post any spoilers, but one thing that is perhaps a bit of a disappointment, or at least worth mentioning, is that the ultimate conclusion of the film is, from my understanding, inaccurate. Of course it’s typical of Disney to paint a happy ending, but it’s rather sad to know that the way they showed things wasn’t actually how it happened. I’m not sure the movie would have felt right without the happy ending, so in some ways I’m glad they did it that way, but it’s still just a bit unfortunate.
Overall I can’t recommend this movie enough. It’s something I think everyone should see (Disney fan or not – though at least make sure you’ve watched Mary Poppins if you’re going to see it!). I also expect it to get some Oscar nods, most especially for Emma Thompson’s performance. I found the film captivating, and I hope you do too.