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Saving Mr. Banks (8/10):

by Tony Medley

Runtime 120 minutes.

OK for children.

About 15 years ago my good Yoga friend, Betty Culiner, and her boyfriend Bill Wyse, invited me to a party celebrating Betty’s career in film. She was a dancer in most of Gene Kelly’s films and assistant choreographer. They had put together a reel of all her appearances. It was a small party, not more than 20 people. Two of the people attending were Robert and Richard Sherman, who wrote the music for Mary Poppins. Betty had a piano and the Shermans played and sang the entire score of the film. This was, obviously, before they became alienated from one another. I was thinking about that party while I sat through this film because the Shermans (B. J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman are Robert and Richard, respectively) play a pivotal role in the film.

Apparently Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) was after P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) for more than two decades to convert her Mary Poppins stories into a movie. This film shows the final leg in Disney’s pursuit as Travers flew to Burbank in 1961 to see what she could work out with Disney.

It is something of an ordeal to sit through this film about such a disputatious character. Much of it takes place in a room on the Disney lot as Travers goes over the script with the Shermans and scenarist Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford). She was adamantly opposed to the idea of a musical. In fact, this film shows that she was adamantly opposed to almost all of Disney’s ideas for the film. She was only there because the books had stopped selling and she needed money. But she wasn’t relinquishing control and this gave Disney a huge headache.

Director John Lee Hancock, whose credits include the fine “The Blind Side” (2009), and screenwriters Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith tell the story with innumerable flashbacks (taking up maybe a third of the movie’s runtime; it’s really two movies in one) showing Travers as a young girl, Ginty (a superb Annie Rose Buckley), being brought up in the Australian outback by her beloved but alcoholic father Travers Goff (Colin Farrell in a good performance), a banker, and her beaten down mother, Margaret (Ruth Wilson in an equally good performance). The fictional, titular Mr. Banks (the banker in Mary Poppins) is intended as Travers Goff. The movie shows that P. L. Travers’ Mary Poppins stories were based upon her childhood.

Why they added Paul Giamatti’s character, a totally fictional driver for Travers, is beyond me, unless it was to provide Travers with a sliver of humanity (a very small sliver).

After so many flashbacks it all comes together if you stay until after the end credits (Don’t leave early!). With Hanks sparkling as Walt Disney, this movie, has a superb ending, justifying Thompson’s typically award-quality performance as an extremely unreasonable, irritating woman.