Walt Disney: George Banks and all he stands for will be saved. Maybe not in life, but in imagination. Because that’s what we storytellers do. We restore order with imagination. We instill hope again and again and again.
Beware: Spoilers may follow
Of all the Disney movies that have been produced over the years, this is by far the most interesting as it’s the first Disney film about the making of a Disney film (how meta). Unlike the Reluctant Dragon where involved going more through the animation process, this is more of the mental process. With Walt Disney coming up with an idea and a clash of egos to come toa compromise with creative choices and disputes.
The story involves Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) who is incredibly reluctant in handing over Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) the rights to make a movie out of it as her idea of the book originated from her real-life experiences growing up with her having an alcoholic father and an aunt who came in to make things better. However, when the Disney corporation wants to adapt it into a movie she refuses and states that if they want the rights they have to abide by her rules. Thus the rest of the movie is them trying to come to a compromise. Travers wants it her way being a purist with no changes and Disney wants it another with charm and whimsy.
The best thing about this story is that it is done from an entirely developmental perspective. It is not at all the lights, cameras, and sets as much as the sketches, songs, and ideas. It’s hard to make and drive a movie on something like that alone but this movie does it effectively. And given Travers and Disney are entirely different from one another they work off each other effectively in trying to understand each other.
I was really happy with how they handled the liar revealed cliche when Travers learns about the use of animation (as they had agreed to no animation) thus causing her to return to London. Where it could have easily been a lot of moping over the second third it’s resolved in a matter of minutes through a well-thought-out, sincere, and well-interacted conversation between Disney and Travers.
They also show elements that Disney probably would have never allowed back then. You see him smoke, drink and even swear. He can also be somewhat backstabbing. Such examples include when (as mentioned before) he attempts to go behind Travers’ back and use animation and when he doesn’t invite her to the premiere. It’s shocking to see Disney represent their founder in such a way but it’s also welcomed. It shows how comfortable they are with being honest and makes Disney much more relatable.
The flashbacks are really well shown as they show how whimsical young Travers’ life was but also how it gradually descends into devastating reality thus shaping her into the woman she is over the events of the movie. The flashbacks also do a wonderful job of showing how aspects of Travers’ life translated to the Mary Poppins movie.
The acting in this movie is truly outstanding. Sometimes it’s so good to the point that I almost forget that these are actors portraying these real-life people. Emma Thompson is brilliant as the purist and no-nonsense Travers and while it’s easy to hate her for it, we see that her personality is rightfully so through the flashbacks. What really is shocking, however, is Tom Hanks as Walt Disney. Of all the things I was worried about prior to seeing this movie it was this role but upon seeing him it is truly amazing. He gives the appearance of a charming businessman (such as when the movie recreates the classic commercial with Walt Disney and Tinkerbell) but also has that sort of backstabbing element in that he’ll compromise but he isn’t above being sneaky. At the same time, he isn’t entirely a bad guy as shown through a conversation where he talks about when he was offered a bunch of money for Mickey Mouse at a time when he was starting from little to nothing but refused as the character was like family to him and the conversation between him and Travers about his father and the sadness of the past. The others such as Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak as the Sherman Brothers and Paul Giamatti as Ralph the driver are also brilliant giving even the smallest of roles and scenes so much weight.
As is with most movies however it does have its flaws:
One is the flashbacks while the story it is trying to tell is a moving one, it does feel like a different story from the main one.
Two is the ending seemed rather abrupt. I know that Disney is never all that accurate with its source material so I didn’t expect Travers’ reaction to the movie to be the same as it was real life. But honestly, it would have been better had their been some sort of text at the end indicating what the real Travers’ thoughts were or something after the premiere.
Despite these two flaws they are in no way enough to ruin the movie. Saving Mr. Banks tackles the making of Mary Poppins from such an adult angle. It shows the making of a truly brilliant movie with a brilliant movie and takes on said making with a realistic take. It shows that it’s not whimsical and gives a good sense of sincerity.