There have been a lot of movies about the making of movies. It has become more and more popular for Hollywood to look at itself. Just last year, one of these films, Argo, won Best Picture at the Oscars. This latest film in that genre had a little different take on it all. Few people would argue with the concept that there is Hollywood film making, and then there is Disney. Disney has really created an entire world of its own that puts it in its own category. This is the world that is explored in Saving Mr. Banks as it explores the courtship Walt Disney went through to obtain the rights to make the film adaptation of Mary Poppins. Everything Disney has a certain amount of magic and imagination involved. This movie is no different.
The film focuses on Mrs. P.L. Travers (played by Emma Thompson), the author of the Mary Poppins book. She is a cranky, cynical, old English woman that is obviously against everything American, and especially Disney. I couldn't help but ask myself several times throughout the film how this woman could be the author of such an imaginative and fun character and story. These questions are answered as the film goes along, and Travers travels to Hollywood to hear Walt Disney's (Tom Hanks) sales pitch that he has been wanting to give for 20 years. While Mrs. Travers works with the screenwriter (Bradley Whitford) and songwriters (Jason Schwartzman, B.J. Novak), images from her past seem to resurface. This leads to a parallel storyline of Travers as a young girl growing up with her alcoholic father (Colin Farrell) who also is the one that taught her how to dream and use her imagination. It soon becomes clear that to Mrs. Travers, this story is about more than a flying nanny, but also that little girl so many years ago.
There are so many things that make this film remarkable. First, the ensemble of actors that have been put together to bring this story to life is about as good as you can get. The two leads, Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks, are the only people I could see playing their roles. This is especially true for Hanks as he brings one of the most beloved personalities in Hollywood history to life. Thompson is looking at getting an Oscar nomination for her role, which is completely deserved as she proves to be one of the best out there. The supporting cast of Farrell (who gives one of his all-time best performances), Whitford, Schwartzman, Novak, and (my favorite) Paul Giamatti all seem to be perfectly cast in their roles as well. Director John Lee Hancock, who before this is known most for feel good corny sports films like The Rookie and The Blind Side, shows that all he needed to make his feel good stories become special is a little Mickey Mouse. Two Oscar winners fronting his film help too.
What really made this special though was watching this classic story slowly develop and morph into what we all know and love. As Mrs. Travers said, Mary Poppins would not be turned into one of Disney's side show cartoons, which is not too far from what the writers originally intended for the film. However, as your heart breaks for the little girl watching her role model father throw his life away, you begin to understand why the author is so particular about this character and who she is there to save. As she says, Mary Poppins is family. Disney simply wanted to make her part of everyone else's family as well.
At the end of this film, only one word came to mind to describe it: magical. How else would you describe a film showing how Disney works? It is one of the most fulfilling and complete moviegoing experiences I have had. I laughed, I cried, I was inspired. Watching how much this story means to its author makes the payoff at the end so much sweeter. It is everything Hancock has wanted to get out of all his other films, but fell short. Again, all he needed was the magic and imagination of Walt Disney.