By Jacob Montgomery (Texas)
I have a confession to make. The first time I ever saw Mary Poppins was the day before I saw Saving Mr. Banks. I know that it sounds like I’m making that up, but it’s true. Throughout all my childhood, I never sat down and watched the film that many people have said has defined their childhood, despite the fact that my family owned it on VHS. Maybe it stems from the fact that I thought I was too much of a boy to like musicals, or maybe I was turned off by the longer running time. So please understand that I am looking at Saving Mr. Banks having just been introduced to the world of Mary Poppins, and having not read any of the books (though that may change soon).
First off, I’ll admit that this was not an easy story to make into a film. When you really get down to it, it’s basically the Walt Disney Company telling its audience that the original author hated the beloved classic film. That is a very risky move, and if not done well, it would’ve blown up in their faces. But in actuality they do the best job that they can showing P.L. Travers in an unbiased light, and even make her a sympathetic, if slightly grouchy character, while still managing to be an honest look of how such a great movie was able to come about.
I will also give the company credit for actually showing a side of Walt Disney that everybody knows is there, but you seldom hear about; the business side. When you get down to it, Walt Disney was a very shrewd and very smart businessman, almost like a used car salesman, telling you exactly what you wanted to hear, but he still got the better end of the deal, always. And Tom Hanks does a good job of portraying Disney as a very human character, a flawed, but still lovable individual. Tom Hanks was easily able to switch from the serious business side of the legend, to the child-like enthusiasm that Disney was known for. Tom Hanks’ only problem is his voice, which is way too high to be Disney’s, which can be distracting, especially because it’s such an iconic voice, but it’s not a big problem.
Emma Thompson was perfectly cast as P.L. Travers, and she’s absolutely marvelous. Taking what could’ve been an insufferable spoilsport, Thompson instead plays her as a broken woman, who is hiding all her insecurities by lashing out at others, which makes us understand her, even if we may disagree with her sometimes.
The film is great as a history lesson about how Mary Poppins was made, and we even get to see the roots of P.L. Travers, see what her inspiration was, and help the audience understand and empathize with her, which the film does flawlessly. We see just enough of her childhood to get the point, but never so much that it becomes intrusive.
But still, as with every other film that’s based on a true event, you know that some stuff had to be altered. For example, the ending which has P.L. Travers crying at the premiere did happen, but not for the reason this movie is implying. She wasn’t crying because she was thinking of her childhood, she was crying because she felt Walt Disney had destroyed her beloved character. And I know that that would’ve been too depressing and not a very satisfying conclusion, but still, knowing about the real life story kind of took me out of it a little bit. And as always with these kinds of films, I always question how much of this actually happened, and how much of it didn’t, which can make the experience a little uneasy to say the least.
Saving Mr. Banks is a charming and funny film that does do what it’s supposed to do, take you behind the scenes of how Mary Poppins was made, and go into why the author was so protective of her work. And I do stand that they did the best job they could’ve possibly done, seeing as how the real story ended up. But it does still suffer from the “Based on a true story syndrome” that plague so many real life movies. With that said though, the film is a must-see for fans of both Disney and Mary Poppins.