Saving Mr. Banks is the story of the making of the 1964 film Mary Poppins, in which Walt Disney tries to persuade the author of the book, P.L. Travers, to let him turn her book into a movie. There is also a movie within the movie that tells of Travers' childhood and the relationship she had with her father.
At a little over two hours, Saving Mr. Banks packs a lot of story into it. First off we have Walt Disney (a perfectly cast Tom Hanks), who flies in Pamela Lyndon Travers (a very British Emma Thompson) to Los Angeles. After begging her for almost 20 years, she's finally ready to let him make the movie, and Disney thinks she might be able to help out with the writing of the film, much to the dismay of the film's songwriters, Richard and Robert Sherman (Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak).
The second arch of the movie is the story of P.L. Travers as a little girl (played by the winning Australian Annie Buckley), who lives with her family on a farm in Queensland, Australia, with her mother (Ruth Wilson), and father Robert (a surprisingly good Colin Farrell), and his addiction to alcohol.
Mary Poppins is the story of a man, George Banks, who, with his suffering wife, Mrs. Banks, search for a perfect nanny for their two children, who have a tendency to misbehave and run off. No previous nanny could handle them, and Mary Poppins blows in (literally) to take care of the children and to set them straight. Travers' father was the inspiration for George Banks.
Saving Mr. Banks is, for the most part, an enjoyable film, but there are moments that make you cringe in your seat. Thompson depicts Travers as a very snooty know-it-all. She is insulting (always putting down the Sherman brothers lyrics), rude (barging into Disney's offices anytime she wants), and at one point goes back to England, leaving the production, and Walt Disney, hanging. It is up to Disney to fly to London to get her formal approval for to finish making Mary Poppins. She finally comes around (lucky for us).
The depiction of Travers in Saving Mr. Banks is not a very good one, and it really effects the likeability of this movie. In the beginning of the film, as she lands in Los Angeles, the first thing she says is that it smells like chlorine. This sets the tone for her character throughout the movie. There is no better actor in Hollywood to play Walt Disney than Tom Hanks. Hanks has a reputation in Hollywood, and around the world, as being the nicest person in Hollywood, and he plays Disney like he could be your own father who has the keys to the biggest candy store in the world. Paul Giamatti plays Travers' chauffeur, whom Travers doesn't realize exists until the very end of the film.
On the other hand, the part of the movie where Travers is a young girl in Australia is great. It is the best part of the film, and actually seems like a different movie altogether. Told in flashbacks while Travers is in Los Angeles, we see that her childhood was a good one, but unfortunately the father that she loved so dearly was a gambler and an alcoholic who could not take care of his young family. Buckley as a young Travers is amazing, as is Ruth Wilson as Margaret, her mother. Farrell, as her father, gives the best performance in this film as an ill-tempered yet loving man who really wants to take care of his family but cannot due to his addictions. The scenes play out like a dream sequence, they are very good. And then there is a woman who comes from the sky (not literally) to help the family.
The film depicts Travers weeping tears of joy at the premier of Mary Poppins. But in reality, she wept tears of horror, stating, "Oh God, what have they done."
Saving Mr. Banks is a good film, and one that may make you weep, so don't be put off by Thompson's very negative portrayal of Travers and the fact that this film is not entirely true. Saving Mr. Banks is a BBC/Disney co-production, so of course the Disney brand in the film is full of sugar and spice and everything nice.
Following are excerpts from the Saving Mr. Banks press conference held at the Dorchester Hotel on October 20th.
Q: Was there a sense of trepidation for you in playing Walt Disney?
Tom Hanks: There was a responsibility, which is different than trepidation. Walt Disney was ubiquitious in our lives as Uncle Sam, Smokey the Bear, the President of the United States. I felt that it was going to be quite a distance to go and that we had no clue to where to begin outside my own memories, and that led a substantial, there's a lot of video out there, there is a lot of audio you can listen to. Unfortunately, it's mostly Walt Disney performing as Walt Disney. So where you can those moments where he is trying to be natural, something other then 'the new exciting realm of tomorrow which will be opening...' that that was worth its weight in gold, I had access to that, thanks to Diane his daughter and the fabulous museum that she is establishing in San Francisco.
Q: There is obviously a problem in making a movie about a Disney film with Disney songs, studio, about a corporation, did you expects lots of problems from Disney? Were they forthcoming?
Alison Owen (Producer): Kelly (Marcel, Co-Writer) and I didn't know what to expect when we were developing the project and certainly from its inception there was a question about how much of the clips and songs do we use, how much intellectual property rights are we going to play fast and loose here, and Kelly at one time said, "Do I tiptoe around them, try to use as little as possible or do we just try to make the best story that we can?"
I think she steered me in the right direction. Let's just go for it. They're either going to let us do it in which case we might as well make the best that we possibly can be, or they will shut us down which won't matter too much. So Kelly set out to write the best script she could, using all the material, then we had a certain strategy, in terms of approaching Disney, and luckily for us, the right people were sitting at the right desk and in the right chairs at that time and Mary Poppins was blowing the wind in the right direction and that was it. And Disney has supported this project and absolutely been smart and intelligent in letting us do the right thing in telling this story.
Q: So Kelly was that your intent as well, rather than trying to be cautious and anticipate problems?
Kelly Marcel (Writer): Yeah, absolutely, I really felt like you can't tell a story about the making of Mary Poppins without using the songs and using Walt Disney and you know, just throwing it all at the script. I would be disappointed if I went to see the film and didn't get to hear the songs. I think this is what we knew we were going to do from day one, and I think if Alison hadn't had said go for it then I wouldn't of known how to write it, what to do with it. Yes, it was definitely my instinct.
Q: There's a foreground story and there's a backstory, which of course is the story of Mr. Banks, it seems to me that it is very different from any other role youv'e played, did it feel like a departure for you?
Farrell: Anytime you could step into the fiction of another person's skin and you peruse the script of the character's life sort of being the subject of the story, this was on the back of the chronology we were talking about, it did feel a little bit more unique, and I think more than happy about the characters the sensibility, the sensitivity, the whole thing, just in reading, sometimes you read things you put them down, you get very analytical about them, you think about the dialogue, you think about the situation, characters, and you look at the whole stories , this defied any kind of analysis. It was moving, from start to finish, and fun at turns. So I loved the character even more than the character, it just seemed, you know I feel , it's really nice to be part of things that work, and things that affect people. So that the whole becomes greater than the parts that make it. That is more apparent to me so like Emma, I mean I never did read the first page because it came down and then we heard my voiceover so it was like, yes, that's my film.
Q: I thought the performance you gave was most moving, especially the father daughter chemistry, if you can say how you managed to get that? Did you talk with her first? What was your experience in filming with her?
Farrell: Custard cremes. She's incredible. I mean I don't know how many actors or actresses are small human beings that John Lee and Alison may have met in Los Angeles I know they met many. When they went over to Australia they researched where Travers and her family were from and they saw a lot of young girls there as well and I believe they went through it was quite an ordeal to get her legal papers to work but it was worth every single phone call because she's phenomonal, to work with her, it was real easy. She was there with her twin brother Max and her parents were over and our section of the film was it was such a pleasure that they shot in chronology and did it all in two weeks so very much felt like a film within itself so for two weeks we went to a ranch, which was about 350 acres and then a house which was about a hour and a half north of Los Angeles, scorched Earth, young grass, bent over,and they built this lovely little house, and it was just Ruth, the girls, six chickens, one horse, happy days.
Q: You have a terrific performance and at the end I needed some tissues. Given your stellar reputation, and that everyone says they love working with, how do you get into the mindset of the woman?
Thomson: I just let out my inner prickly pen. Basically it was my true self. I don't hide that for effect, because you know you get on better, so I just let it all hang out and I'm going to tell that it was such a relief to be rude, really, and to have no repurcussions whatsoever, saying, you know, I don't, can you imagine, I don't want to go to your f*cking press conference, just to come out with these things and she didn't, she said just what she meant, and she just said it, and I do that sometimes and get into some sort of trouble, but we will, now, but, that was what was so great.
Question: This question's probably for Emma. You've created your own Mary Poppins at some point called Madame McPhee, so how, how influenced were you, did you know the story behind Mary Poppins the book and had you already researched that.
Thomson: No, no, not at all. It's interesting to create a magical nanny and they you play someone whose created a magical nanny and you suppose that behind every magical nanny is a cantankerous opinionated old bat. Let that sink in...umm....Yes, perhaps there is some sort of alter ego, someone you wish you could be um, certainly I wish I could like that, and think with Walt and the mouse and having her, nanny, there's certainly ah these are characters that are created out of the soul of that person when the soul was very vulnerable and emergent, as it were. So that's what gives them their power. Their staying power. She said that she didn't invent Mary Poppins but that Mary Poppins just arrived. And I think that most writers, a genius, would say the same thing. Most kind of say I didn't write it, it just of arrived in me, there's even ah even the most cantankerous writer says there a generosity of spirit of where these things come from, and, of course they are not going to come unless you sit at the writing table with your pen, that's the discipline, but if you do that, then , then it's like fill the dreams. You know, if you sit there, it will come, and sometimes its in a form that will survive any number of cultural interpretations or reinterpretations, and that what's so interesting about this, and that as a movie about two cultures coming together, and clashing as one iconic creation.
Question: Question for Tom, Emma and Collin could answer, that would be great. Mr. Disney was a man that made us all dream and all of you have a dream profession, I think, and in a way and I think you also should be dreamers, I was wondering when you were beginning your careers, or before that, what kind of dreams were you have before coming into this dreamworld that was connected to Walt Disney.
Hanks: I I had no dreams at all, I was just trying to you know, make, just trying to hook up get some a job other than the one I had. That's not unlike what Walt Disney did. When he started drawing he was drawing out in a disconnected garage from his house in Kansas City and he just had art supplies and he was just banging out stuff that came into his head hoping that he might be able to sell them for $5 a piece. I I relate to that. There is no clue as to where any of this stuff will take you, I was hoping make a living little bit more than nothing. Because I thought that this is just a job that you volunteer for, if you're good enough at it they will ask you to play something else, and they will pay you $40 a week. This concept of having dreams when you're young and always having to rhyme it, I could not understand it. I had not a single dream in my head. I kind of am like the communists. If I can build a decent tractor I can build another tractor. I didn't have a 5 year plan, I was just stumbling around.
Question: How do you want this film to be viewed. As entertainment? Something that will surprise people, inform people?
Hooker: That's a tough one. You want all of the above. I mean you make a movie Everybody says you make movies for everybody else but ultimately it's one and half year two years of your life its a marriage not a date you have to make it for yourself first and foremost and you hope that other people enjoy and um and see what you saw in it and what you continue to see in it so I would very happy for people would see the movie that we all worked so hard on. And hopefully they enjoy it, for whatever reason whatever people believe from that Good on you, I hope. Thank you.