Movie Review | Saving Mr. Banks

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The story behind the story of ‘Mary Poppins’. 

Walt Disney Pictures | December 2013
Genre: Drama
Rating: PG 13

With a cast of Oscar and Academy Award winners, ‘Saving Mr. Banks’ is based on the untold true story of how the Disney classic ‘Mary Poppins’ made it to Hollywood. I don’t know about you, but I was one of those kids who knew all the words to the Mary Poppins songs, tried to fly with my umbrella, and even to this day still wish I had the magical bag that could hold absolutely everything. (Infinite baggage allowance!)

Honestly, I hadn’t heard of ‘Saving Mr. Banks’ until a friend showed me the trailer. My sudden curiosity of how Mary Poppins came about got the better of me and I began to do my research. Most reviews out there are positive and heart-felt, perhaps because of the connection to the old Poppins classic, but I was more surprised than put off when I found a couple of sour critiques. I’m not sure of how accurate the plot is, but there are apparently a few details of the main character's life left out—and rightly so I think.

Tom Hanks plays Walter Disney, father of two, who made a promise to his daughters to make a movie out of their favorite childhood book. Little did he know that the fulfilment of his promise would be very long in coming. For the last 20 years, Walt has been in pursuit of P.L.Travers, the hard and unyielding author of ‘Mary Poppins’ (well played by Emma Thompson), but she has refused to let Hollywood get their hands on her idyllic Poppins. However, when her famous novel gradually stops selling and money becomes tight, Travers reluctantly accepts Walt’s invitation to L.A. to discuss options. Sure, he got her to Hollywood, but persuading Travers to sign on the dotted line proves to be quite a mission. She is not easily pleased, and isn’t afraid to express it. “It is blasphemy to drink tea from a paper cup!”

Walt’s attempts to loosen Traver’s tight grip on her precious Poppins are quite entertaining. While she remains stubbornly unimpressed by the spread of sweet treats, the creative storyboards and made up vocabulary in the song lyrics, we begin to see what this 2 week trip to Hollywood is really about. This is not just a story about where ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’ came from. (Took me about 5 minutes, but yes, I did just spell that correctly.) It would be wrong to assume that ‘Saving Mr. Banks’ is some light-hearted and family-friendly Disney comedy. It soon becomes clear that the culture-shocked Travers is faced with more than she expected: her past. Right from the start we see traumatic childhood flashbacks, which is why this is rated PG-13—it’s not for kids.

After playing the role of Travers, Emma Thompson said, “I was absolutely astonished to discover that the journey of Mary Poppins to the screen had been not only so long—I mean, over 20 years—but so fraught.” We see the emotional journey into Travers’ past, paralleled with its present implications, and it stirs things up, let me warn you. I’m not really one to cry at movies. Actually, until recently I would have said I never cry at movies. But seeing Travers haunted with loss and struggling to keep her buried emotions suppressed, I have to admit, I did shed a tear or two. Several times. But to be very serious, if you still have raw emotions after having lost someone near and dear to you, this movie will most likely touch on that. So bring some hankies.

Next time I spot a Mary Poppins poster, hear the catchy songs or see a clip from the movie itself, I shall think of Travers and remember her story behind her story. And yes, the kid in me still wants to fly with an umbrella and own a bottomless bag for when I fly across the Atlantic.