Saving Mr. Banks

Dec 21, 2013

Catch the Disney and Poppins spirit.

Saving Mr. Banks

Grade: B+

Director: John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side)

Screenplay: Kelly Marcel, Sue Smith (My Brother Jack)

Cast: Emma Thompson (Much Ado About Nothing), Tom Hanks (Captain Phillips)

Rating: PG-13

Runtime: 125 min.

by John DeSando

P.L. Travers: No, no, no, no, no! "Responstible" is not a word!

Richard Sherman: We made it up.

P.L. Travers: Well, un-make it up.

Richard Sherman: quickly hides sheet music to "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious."

1964’s Mary Poppins was as iconic a as film could get: its quirky songs were hummable, its language inventive (“supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”--You get the idea), and the spirit of P.L. Travers’ original work was enhanced through those songs and the ineffable magic of Walt Disney (Tom Hanks).  Saving Mr. Banks chronicles Walt’s 20 year courtship of the stodgy Brit author (Emma Thompson) for rights to the film.

Of course, the film is partly a promotion of "the happiest place on earth,” (Disneyland) and partly a syrupy paean to the Disney goodness concept; however it is also a seemingly honest translation of the difficulty Walt had convincing the conservative Travers to sign over the film rights. Half the fun is watching the songwriting brothers Sherman, playfully played by B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman, try to convince Travers (who had final say) that a spoonful of catchy tunes couldtranslate her beloved Mary Poppins to the screen.

As director, John Lee Hancock assuredly navigates between Travers hard life in Australia and the travails of creating a film. Saving Mr. Banks is as much about the challenges of creating popular art as it is about the challenges of bringing an author to deal with her work on film. Or more to the point, to deal with the memory of her charismatic, poetic, alcoholic father, whom Disney astutely, albeit late in his courtship of Travers, sees as the center of Travers’ ambivalence about giving her creation over to Disney.

No matter the accuracy of this version, when the author has the power to sign over rights , the producers's role is challenging and frustrating. Walt does not give up even if he has been at it for 20 years, and the film successfully shows why Disney is arguably the most powerful name in cinema.

To the film’s credit, Travers remains a crusty Brit to the end, no Hollywoodized version of a convert to Disney Studio’s sweetness, and Walt is as I remembered him: avuncular and determined to bring happiness and goodness to the world, especially children, through art.  See this film to witness the challenges of creating  popular art and the supremacy of goodness and a belief in something like a miraculous nanny.

John DeSando hosts WCBE 90.5’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics, which can be heard streaming and on-demand at Contact him at