The story of Mary Poppins holds a special place in the hearts of people all over the world. For some, it is in the form of the original books written by P. L. Travers. For others it is the magic of the 1964 film created by Walt Disney. In his new film Saving Mr. Banks, director John Lee Hancock brings to life the events that lead to the creation of this iconic story, both on the page and on the screen.
The film opens in London in 1961. Sales of the Mary Poppins books have declined significantly and author P. L. Travers is forced to consider selling the film rights, a move she has refused for decades. She flies out to California to meet with Walt Disney who has been pursuing the rights to the books to fulfill a promise to his daughters. She wastes no time in ripping the production teams' ideas to shreds. She insists that everything line up with her original creation, driving everyone else insane. What they don't know is that the Mary Poppins stories are not important to Mrs. Travers just because she wrote them, but also because they are drawn from her own experiences. In flashback scenes, we see her childhood in Australia at the turn of the century. She idolizes her father, but he is fighting a losing battle with alcoholism that is hurting his family in many ways. These feelings cause her to lash out at the Disney staff, insisting that their interpretation of Mr. Banks is cruel and unjust. As the secret of Mrs. Travers' relationship with these characters comes to light, the screenplay begins to evolve and Mr. Banks begins to catch a glimpse of redemption.
I have loved the Mary Poppins film for as long as I can remember and have watched it more times than I can count. My mom also read the original books to us and my sisters and I loved them as well. I had very high expectations for this film and it met every single one of them. It is beautifully shot with a very nostalgic feeling about it. The acting is top notch as well with Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks giving excellent performances as Travers and Disney, respectively. It is also chock full of lots of "trivia" moments that will delight fans of both the film and the book.
But above all of this, there are many amazing aspects that raise this movie above a typical nostalgic/fan film. First, you have the story of Travers' childhood which is a heartbreaking contrast to the fun and magic of the Disney studio lot. You can't help but feel for young Helen Goff (Travers) as she is forced to watch the father she adores crumble before her very eyes. Knowing that Travers was not able to see her own father be rescued from himself makes the ultimate redemption of Mr. Banks all the more sweet. Another thing that was interesting was the idea of stories belonging to the audience. Travers is reluctant to sell the film rights because she was afraid that Disney would change everything that made the story so personal to her. What she didn't realize was that this had already happened. Her interpretation of Mr. Banks was completely different from Disney's because they were seeing two different men; Travers saw her father an Disney saw his. This shows how a story never completely belongs to an author, but rather the story becomes our own as we bring pieces of ourselves to it.
I enjoyed this film immensely. Is it on the sweet and nostalgic side, which is perfect for people like me who adore all things Disney. If you prefer cynical type films, this probably won't be the most satisfying one for you. But if you are a fan of the story, this is a must see. It has funny moments and heart wrenching ones. It is full of nostalgic moments and moments that make you think. I definitely encourage you to see it.
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