Mary Poppins has always struck me as an odd little film in Disney’s collection. While it is full of the type of magic and upbeatness one would expect from The House of Mouse, there is also no real villain to the piece and ultimately the apparent protagonists of the film (Mary, Burt, Jane and Michael) change little over the film’s runtime.
Instead it is one of the side characters, Mr. Banks, whose arc dominates the final third of the movie. It is him who must cope with the fact he has been putting his job before his kids, and ultimately put things right by ‘flying a kite’ with his children. This is perhaps easily forgotten if we have only watched the film as children and our eyes are not so naturally drawn to the fate of the one of the less colourful characters in the film.
Saving Mr. Banks makes certain that we know the reason PL Travers (Emma Thomson) wrote the book, and Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) was so keen to see it adapted. Both have a great love for Mr. Banks, as we learn through flashbacks that Mrs. Travers own father (Colin Farrell) worked for a bank and was deeply unhappy. Meanwhile Walt sees his story of redemption as one inspiring to him, insisting Mr. Banks have a moustache just like his once the film is made.
The brunt of the narrative sees the team at Disney trying to sell Travers on the idea of her book being turned into a colourful musical with dancing penguins, while she is far from convinced of the wisdom of seeing her precious characters given the Disney treatment.
Saving Mr. Banks in many ways plays out the way we would expect it to. Since we know that Mary Poppins will eventually be made into a film, there is a feel-good factor around the introduction of songs and ideas in the present day that bring many a smile to the face.
It is in the form of the flashbacks the breaks a little with convention and viewer expectations. Like Mr. Banks in Mary Poppins, Mrs. Travers’ father is by far the most interesting character in the film. He is idolised by his daughter, and unsurprisingly so ,since he has a natural charm and warmth in all his dealings her. However, in all other aspects of his life he is struggling. We learn his job at the bank is under threat, and his love of alcohol starts to get the better of him.
In another film Travers’ father could have been portrayed as a charlatan who was charming on the surface but a conman underneath. Thankfully this is not the portrayal Saving Mr. Banks opts for, and ultimately we feel sorry for Farrell’s character without feeling the need to totally absolve him for his sins.
Overall Saving Mr. Banks is a welcome distraction of a film. One that satisfies fully without sweeping you off your feet.