Saving Mr. Banks (PG-13)
BBC Film; Disney Movies; Disney Wiki; Essential Media; History vs Hollywood; Hopscotch Features; IMDb; Rotten Tomatoes; TV Tropes; Wikipedia
streaming sites: Amazon; Disney+; FandangoNOW; Google Play; iTunes; Movies Anywhere; Vudu
This came out in 2013, but I didn't see it until 2018 (on opening night of Mary Poppins Returns). I'm not entirely comfortable with my decision to include it in the "based on a true story" category instead of "period pieces," considering how many historical inaccuracies the film contains. Most notably, the fact that author Pamela "P.L." Travers never really came around to liking the Disney adaptation of her novel, Mary Poppins, as this film depicts her doing in the end. In fact, just knowing that she still greatly disapproved of several aspects of the 1964 film caused me to give this movie a lower rating than I would have if it weren't essentially lies. According to Wikipedia, she didn't like the softening of the character she had created, never wanted it to be a musical, and didn't want the film to include any animation, among other complaints. I must say, I've never read any of her books, but this movie makes me curious to do so, just to find out how different they really are from the Disney movie. Although considering I dearly love the Disney movie, and the things Travers objected to about it are all some of the things I loved about it, I can't help but wonder if I might end up liking her books a lot less than Disney's interpretation of them. Of course, even if I did, I'd still side with Travers in believing she should have had greater creative control of the film. Nevertheless, I must say that as a historical drama, I loved this film, too. I'm just disappointed that it had to be so heavily fictionalized to make me love it, which in turn makes me unable to love it unconditionally.
Anyway, the movie alternates between scenes set in 1961 (when Travers is played by Emma Thompson) and her childhood in Australia, when she was known by her real name, Helen Goff (played by Annie Rose Buckley). Or as her father (Colin Farrell) called her, "Ginty." The flashbacks make it very clear how much she loved her father, and how much he loved her. However, he had a drinking problem, which gets worse as the flashbacks progress throughout the film. We also see Helen's mother (played by Ruth Wilson), and younger sister, and a baby, though none of them are as important to the story as Helen and her father. Eventually, Helen's aunt Ellie (Rachel Griffiths) comes to help take care of some things, when Helen's father gets tuberculosis. (She is portrayed as the basis for the character Mary Poppins, though that's another historical inaccuracy.)
Meanwhile, in 1961, Travers lives in London. Her agent urges her to go to Los Angeles to meet with Walt Disney (Tom Hanks), who has spent the last twenty years trying to convince her to sell him the movie rights to her book. She has always declined, but at this point she has little choice, as she is out of money and has no plans to do any more writing. However, she does still have a great deal of control over the development process, since she won't sign over the rights until she has decided she can accept the way it's shaping up. We see Disney himself several times throughout the movie, though Travers spends most of her time working with screenwriter Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford) and songwriters Richard Sherman (Jason Schwartzman) and his brother Robert Sherman (B.J. Novak). She also gradually becomes friends with her driver, Ralph (Paul Giamatti), who was made up for the film. Other characters we see a bit of include Disney's secretary, Dolly (Melanie Paxson), and his executive assistant Tommy (Kathy Baker, who I somehow mistook for Rosemary Dunsmore throughout the film).
Well... for most of the film, Travers definitely does not like the screenplay, nor the music, and when she finds out there is going to be an animation sequence, that derails everything. But Disney makes a final appeal to her, and changes the ending of his movie, when he realizes how personal the story and characters she created are to her. And of course, he finally comes to understand that the story isn't really about Mary coming to save the Banks children, but to save their father (hence this movie's title). So, as I said, the movie works very well as a drama. It really is a beautiful story. And there's some decent humor, too. I also must say I found it strange, early on, that the adult Pamela was so different from who she'd been as a child. Young Helen Goff seemed so happy, and loved fantasy (inspired by her father). But Pam seemed very prim and proper, and insisted on the film based on her book being as realistic as possible. (Which seems odd, as Disney himself pointed out at one point, considering her book is obviously a fantasy story. So it strikes me as arbitrary skepticism.) Of course, ultimately the change in her personality seems to be explained by Helen eventually coming to see her father in a more realistic light. Which is what makes the redemption of Mr. Banks so cathartic. Anyway... definitely a good film, full of feels, even if it basically amounts to propaganda for Disney.