SAVING MR. BANKS Review: You Thought It Was About Saving the Children

This is where my spoiler-free alert usually goes, but this movie is how Walt Disney negotiated the film rights of “Mary Poppins” from P.L. Travers and, since we all know the film was made, the ending of the story was revealed almost 50 years ago.  Happy Anniversary, Mary Poppins! [Oh, and check out our review of the Mary Poppins 50th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray too.]  Click here for more images, trailers, and news for Disney’s SAVING MR. BANKS, and continue reading for the full SAVING MR. BANKS review.



SAVING MR. BANKS is rated PG-13, but I wouldn’t bring younger children to see it, anyway.  It’s a story about complicated relationships among adults.  This movie is for Walt Disney fans and Mary Poppins fans.  While undoubtedly not a true-to-life retelling, the story is engaging and even heart-wrenching at times.  Even though we know “Mary Poppins” gets made, it’s fascinating to see just how they negotiated the final steps toward collaboration.

The film opens on a beautiful blue sky with puffy white clouds then pans over to palm trees, then down into a scene from a by-gone era (beyond that of the main storyline), with a nanny strolling by with a pram and a little girl facing up at the sun, eyes closed.  Cut to P.L. Travers in the same position (so we know the little girl is her younger self) in a London townhouse.  The exposition of Travers as a difficult woman begins here.  We are shown over and over how difficult and exacting she is.  She is completely against Walt Disney making a movie of “Mary Poppins,” but agrees to go work with the Disney team to see if they can come to an agreement about how the movie will be made.


P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) Photo by François Duhamel ©Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.


The movie continues to transition between the author as a young girl and the older woman (Travers was in her early 60s by then) battling Walt Disney over her beloved Mary Poppins.  Travers falls into revery repeatedly, drawing parallels between her childhood and the story of Mary Poppins, emphasizing (explaining?) the reasons for her reluctance to turn the rights over to Disney.  We hear little tidbits that seem to explain how certain phrases and experiences ended up in the story and/or the movie, which, for me, added an element of discovery as I pieced together the connections.  The movie takes us through the collaboration efforts through to the premiere of the movie, fading back out above the palm trees to the beautiful blue sky with puffy white clouds.


L-R : Annie Buckley, Colin Farrell, photo by François Duhamel ©Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.


So far, only Emma Thompson has been nominated for awards (Best Actress by both SAG and the Hollywood Foreign Press).  It remains to be seen whether or not the Academy will honor the film and its cast and crew.  For me, the strongest acting in the movie came from Colin Farrell, as the young author’s father.  He stole every scene he was in, giving heart to both stories.  Paul Giamatti as Ralph is also wonderful, playing a Travers’ L.A. chauffeur, an open-hearted sunny personality, yet another character to show how difficult Travers was.  The Ralph storyline isn’t true, but is used to show a softer side of Travers (which also may or may not be true).  The fairy houses she made, both as a child and an older woman, also showed the whimsy and fancy of her personality.


P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson), left and Ralph (Paul Giamatti), right, photo by François Duhamel ©Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.


Throughout the movie, we hear beloved songs from the movie as they’re being created by the Sherman brothers (played brilliantly by B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman).  The music was apparently a bone of contention for Travers, who didn’t think the story should be made into a musical.  Watching her be drawn in and enchanted by the Sherman brothers’ lyrics and music is a highlight of the movie.  In fact, the entire movie is an homage to the magic of Disney (both the man and the concept), seen through the slow, sweet enchantment of Travers by the characters, the people and the story-telling of the Disney studios.


(L-R) B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman as Robert and Richard Sherman in “Saving Mr. Banks” Photo by François Duhamel ©Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.


I always have difficulty with movies that purport to be historical, but they lead me to some fascinating research, so I’m now looking forward to reading more about Mary Poppins, P.L. Travers, and the making of the movie of Mary Poppins.  The story was engaging (though I did have trouble with Disney’s treatment of Travers, which seemed, to me, to be antagonizing, rather than conciliatory, though he did redeem himself in the end, obviously).  Again, I don’t think young children will enjoy it, but Mary Poppins and Disney fans will.  Some of my favorite things about the film were seeing Disneyland retrofitted to look like 1960s Disney, the music scenes with the Sherman brothers, the scene where Disney puts out a cigarette (the only scene where Disney, a heavy smoker, is seen with a cigarette), and all the memorabilia in the Disney studios and offices.


Walt Disney (Tom Hanks), left, and P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson), right. Photo by François Duhamel ©Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.


Be sure to stay through at least the beginning of the credits.  Travers insisted on every collaboration session being recorded and the first taped session is played over the credits.  While listening to the recording, people who had already gotten up to leave stopped in their tracks, lining the aisles, listening intently.  You might as well just stay and relax while you listen.

Are you planning on seeing Disney’s SAVING MR. BANKS, have you seen it already?  What did you think?  Share your thoughts in the comments below.  For more family movie news, be sure to follow Adventures by Daddy on twitter and “like” our facebook page too.

About George Gensler

George Gensler is a copyrights specialist during the week and a runner on the weekends. She lives in New York City now, but has lived in five countries on three continents. She grew up traveling the world, but her official residence was in Southern California and every visit home included a trip to Disneyland. She has also visited every Disney Park around the world and sailed on board two Disney cruises. She threw in a visit to the Disney Family museum in San Francisco for good measure, and has had the Premier Disney Park Pass since its inception.