Saving Mr. Banks Brilliance falters under the weight of Marry Poppins


After attending Disney’s excellent D23 presentation of upcoming films, Saving Mr. Banks quickly became one of the few films that I really looked forward to seeing. It has all the elements that I love in movies – heart, comedy, colorful cinematography and it is about the creative process. That twenty-minute preview and surprise ending with the great Richard Sherman, Jason Schwartzman, and B.J. Novak doing a live performance of Let’s Fly A Kite is one the highlights of my year. The movie met and exceeded my expectations in every way.

I would say let’s start with the positives, but for me, this was a nearly perfect film. But an odd thing happened, I actually watched Mary Poppins (for the first time) It turns out the movie that I dearly love is nothing more than a propaganda film that was designed to make Walt Disney out to be a saint and I bought into it hook, line and sinker. In many ways I wish I stayed ignorant and never watched Poppins. It is nearly impossible to properly comment on Banks without taking into consideration that the film makes you root for author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) to get her way in her battles with the affable Walt Disney (Tom Hanks).

I left the theater believing that this really was a partnership and that ultimately Travers was happy with the finished product, however, when you actually watch Poppins,  I couldn’t help but feel like I’ve been hoodwinked by slick corporate propaganda. Every thing that Travers complains about and fights against in Banks is actually in Poppins so there is no way she would have been happy with the end result. It is as if Walt listened patiently to this mean old woman, gave her some lip service and went ahead and did whatever he wanted to her creation.

savingmrbanksimageIt took Walt 20 years to get Travers to even have a conversation with him and she only broke down because she ran into money issues. Walt was a man used to getting what he wanted and he patiently waited for the right moment to strike. Even in her desperation, Travers wasn’t willing to give up control that easily or let the silver tongue convince her into doing something she ultimately didn’t want to do. Watching her prickly personality go up against Walt’s charm attack was a joy to behold.  She took great pleasure in pricking the guy. He insisted on people calling him Walt and she called him Mr. Disney.  I’m not the biggest Hanks fan around be he does a fabulous job here. You can see his irritation growing, under that smile and laughter of his. Travers disdain for the Sherman Brothers, especially Robert was also fun. In one scene she asks Bob Sherman (B.J. Novak) why he walks with a limp and he says “I was shot in the war,” and Travers deadpan response “I’m not surprised,” was dry humor at its finest.  Watching her relationship with her driver Ralph (Paul Giamatti) grow throughout the film was touching.


Emma Thomas is one of those great actresses that we just don’t see enough of, she is absolutely stellar.. While Travers can easily come across as one note and sour during the entire two hours, Thomas plays the straight woman perfectly and remains perfectly uptight but you can see the deeper, repressed emotions behind her every action and snide comment. This is helped by Bank’s brilliant story structure.

Director John Lee Hancock takes Kelly Marcel, & Sue Smith script to weave a story that effectively uses flashback scenes to tell a story within a story. We see how Mary Poppins came to be and why she is so important to Travers. Her childhood dreams shatter when she realizes that her father (Colin Farrell) is a drunken dreamer who will never, ultimately be good for his family and her mother (Ruth Wilson) is someone who cannot cope with raising kids on her own. Colin Farrell and Ruth Wilson are amazing as Travers’ parents. Usually, I’m not a fan of flashbacks and found it a bit distracting at first but there’s a point to it and it successfully sucks you in and provides layers and context to Travers’ personality and even the birth of Mary Poppins herself.

In addition to being a story about family, dreams, sticking to your guns against all odds and common sense, it is also a story about an underdog going up against a big corporate machine and the larger than life personality that runs it. Although you’d think that underdog would be the lowly Travers, in Banks it is actually Walt fighting the “man” or in this case the “woman” to get her to give up her rights and creative control of her characters; to just “trust him” to do the right thing. As Walt keeps whining “Just sign the paper,” “What do I need to do to convince you?” In many ways Saving Mr. Banks is the ultimate Disney film and embodies everything the company sort of stands for and this is also the film’s ultimate downfall.

Before I saw Poppins, this film was clearly my favorite film of 2013, post Poppins….

Final Grade A


  1. I thought that one of the most interesting features about this film was that a big American company could make an engaging film about an event in its history. What a change from the usual Hollywood schtick of big business, Wall Street, greed and mendacity. Critics really should get over their expectation that all films about the operations of big business need to portray its evils.

    1. I agree, I’m tired of seeing movies that glorify vile, amoral people. At least this one wore it’s heart on it’s sleeve – even if it did have a clear agenda.

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