Popcorn Picks: Saving Mr. Banks
Starring: Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Colin Farrell, Ruth Wilson, Paul Giamatti, Bradley Whitford, B.J. Novak, Jason Schwartzman
Directed by: John Lee Hancock
Choice Quote: “I opened the doors for Mary Poppins and who should be standing there but Walt Disney.” – P.L. Travers
Aside from this sort of caretaking of history (as one film critic noted, Walt Disney’s habit for chain smoking was conveniently left out of the film), Saving Mr. Banks is an intriguing, emotional, and witty look at the story behind the making of Mary Poppins.
Mr. Banks refers, of course, to the patriarch George Banks of Mary Poppins fame – a character based on Travers’ own father. Through flashbacks the film explores the author’s troubled upbringing at the hands of an alcoholic dad (Farrell), whose memory, and mistakes, Travers ultimately hopes Poppins can redeem – a storyline that also leads to revelations about Disney’s troubled childhood.
But making a Mary Poppins film doesn’t prove easy. Disney chased Travers for 20 years for permission to use her character – the fulfillment of a promise to his own children. Travers continuously rebuked him until her literary royalties dried up, and only then does she reluctantly make the trip to Los Angeles.
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“Mr. Disney, I cannot explain to you how positively sickened I am at the thought of visiting your dollar-printing machine,” she exclaims bluntly when invited to visit Disneyland with the creator himself. It kind of gives you an idea of what Disney was dealing with.
Thompson’s outbursts are often hilarious, such as her decree that the colour red not be used at all in the film because she’s “gone off it.” And no singing. And no Dick Van Dyke. And certainly no animation.
The painstaking process of winning Travers over falls partly on the Mary Poppins script co-writer Don DaGradi (Whitford) and sibling composers Robert B. and Richard M. Sherman (Novak and Schwartzman), with whom the author argues back and forth about everything from storyboards to song lyrics – tussles that prove to be some of the highlights of the film.
Giamatti is almost a living, breathing Disney character himself – a human-version of Goofy crossed with Mickey – as Travers’ driver Ralph, but he’ll win you over by the end.