In “Saving Mr. Banks”, it’s 1961 and the author of Mary Poppins, P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) is whisked away from London and taken to Los Angeles to meet with Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) who tries to get the rights to the novel to make a film. Meanwhile, Travers is very protective of her vision and won’t cooperate with neither Disney, nor the writing crew he has assembled. Along the course of the film, we are also shown the true version of Mary Poppins, in flashback form. In these parts of the movie we see Collin Farrell as Travers Goff, the true version of Mr. Banks.
Try pitching that to a Hollywood studio and see if anyone could understand what you were talking about. Yet, somehow director John Lee Hancock puts it all together with the help of writers Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith to make things seamless and emotional. There are also laughs in the fact that Travers does not particularly want to be there, yet must be because her book has stopped selling and she hasn’t written anything else. Emma Thompson deserves huge praise for her work because we sympathize yet also get annoyed with her character and she balances that tight wire act beautifully. Tom Hanks also does a fabulous job as the legendary Walt Disney, he’s funny and childish just as Disney was known to be. He also has some memorable monologues that help us see a deeper side to him and, as usual, Hanks delivers them on point.
The flashbacks are the downfall of the film for me, though. Maybe one just needs to be a big Mary Poppins fan (I haven’t seen the film since we were forced to watch it in grade school) but I was lost at times and didn’t seem to realize how it correlated into the other part of the film. The parts with Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks were great and I didn’t think we needed a constant flashback to understand that this story and characters were very meaningful to Travers. Honestly, if we stayed in the later era the entire film, it could be in my top movies of the year. However, the flashbacks seemed to be an attempt to grasp some Oscars.
The supporting cast of Paul Giamatti as Travers’ driver, as well as Bradley Whitford, B.J. Novak, and Jason Schwartzmen as the writers of the film all deliver solid performances that will have the audiences laughing throughout. Collin Farrell is solid, but not memorable and I found myself waiting for his character to leave the film.
It is a shame that a movie with such a great cast is only good for half the time. As I watched Thompson and Hanks, I thought about how this is a missed opportunity. However, maybe I just missed the boat. Maybe the people that know the Mary Poppins story better will convince me to watch it again or tell me that I just didn’t understand what was going on. I hope so because I loved half of “Saving Mr. Banks.”