Saving Mr. Banks

Emma Thompson shines as brightly here as Kate Blanchett did in Blue Jasmine. The only difference was that Walt Disney found a key to her hard heart.

Saving Mr. BanksSaving Mr. Banks is a justified tribute to the legendary genius, Walt Disney. Yet while Tom Hanks does an expected wonderful job playing Mr. Disney, the warmth of the film flows from its unanticipated dark side.

First and foremost, you need to be warned that this is not a family movie, much less a film for small children. If that seems a bit ironic, think of what Walt Disney did with his earliest films.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) is downright scary, centering on a witch captivated by her own reflection in the mirror while becoming fixated on killing the little girl being helped by seven dwarfs. Bambi (1942) is a film that makes you laugh with characters like the rabbit Thumper, yet leaves you bawling your eyes out when the little deer learns of his mother being shot to death by hunters.

Dumbo (1941) is again heartwarming, but you are left nearly apoplectic as his trunk interacts with his mother’s as they are confined in separate cages. Pinocchio (1940) made Jiminy Cricket a legend, but who can forget the heartbreak experienced by his creator, Geppetto, who simply wanted him to emerge into a little boy. Finally, the trauma felt by the young boy in Old Yeller (1957), a kid forced to watch his father kill a beloved dog who became rabid after saving his life, is etched on my soul.

And yes, I also have to refer to his three initial stories about Davy Crockett which appeared on TV (1955). For all of Davy’s adventures, we all remember him dying at the Alamo, swinging his rifle (Old Betsy) while his dying partner (played by Buddy Ebsen) uttered his tragic final words, “Give ‘em what fer, Davy.”;

I recite all of the above from memory, as that was the impact that they had on me as a kid. And while Saving Mr. Banks is not a great movie, it will likely move you to tears by its finale.

As most of you know, the plot centers on Disney’s decade-long quest to have P.L. Travers, the author of Mary Poppins, consent to having her beloved book made into a Disney movie. Playing Mrs. Travers, and she does want to be called Mrs. Travers, Emma Thompson captures the entire movie from the first moment she appears on-screen. Living in London and hating the thought of losing control of her book, she is both arrogant and dismissive, lacking anything that resembles a warm heart.

Nonetheless, she is also nearly broke, and finally submits to flying to Los Angeles to at least talk to Mr. Disney and his staff. What follows is a wonderful story about her smug interaction with the film’s screenwriter and music arrangers. Let me just say that the exasperation felt by all was quite amusing.

As expected, Saving Mr. Banks is filled with some meaningful performances. Paul Giamatti shines as Ralph, Mrs. Travers’ Disney chauffeur, and he becomes her only American friend. Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak are a hoot as the songwriting brothers, Richard and Robert Sherman. Mrs. Travers wanted no music of any kind in the film, and watched them hide the lyrics for Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

However, the backbone of the film is found when Mrs. Travers repeatedly reflects on her life as a small child in Australia. Colin Farrell is pitch perfect as her father, Travers Goff, a wonderful father who was wrestling with an alcohol problem that was slowly killing him. Wounded as a child, Mrs. Travers remains wounded as an adult.

In the end, Walt Disney finally learns what the audience discovers, namely the hidden reason for Mary Poppins descending with her umbrella in the first place. If you are searching for the meaning behind the title of this film, then take some tissue. You will need it.

The movie ends with the premiere of Mary Poppins in 1964. Mrs. Travers appears even though Disney didn’t invite her for fear of her interaction with the press. As you watch Emma Thompson’s character descend into tears as she watched a film about her beloved father, you couldn’t help but feel that he was sitting somewhere in a benign afterlife making sure that Old Yeller and Bambi’s mother were cared for.