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Disney’s ‘Mr. Banks’ offering look into ‘Mary Poppins’

12/19/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Craig Marks

Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson star in “Saving Mr. Banks.”
Photo courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Picture
As she is portrayed in John Lee Hancock’s “Saving Mr. Banks,” the author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) is less like her creation, Mary Poppins, and more like the Beatles’ Eleanor Rigby. Like the subject of that classic song, Travers is a solitary soul, one of the “lonely people.” And where did she come from? The movie explains, in detail.

It’s an emotional journey, filled with some powerful, memorable moments. The year is 1961, and a cash-strapped Travers considers selling the movie rights of her creation to Walt Disney (Tom Hanks). To say she is reluctant is an understatement. She hates Disney’s cartoons and his theme park, and she looks at the giant stuffed Mickey left in her hotel room as something that should be taken care of by an exterminator.

But Disney is not someone who takes “no” for an answer, particularly when it’s involving a project that’s personal to him. The movie gets made, of course, and from “Mr. Banks” we learn the process was something close to root canal for those working behind the scenes.

“Mr. Banks” is about the making of “Mary Poppins” and also about the making of Travers, a woman who became someone who could sap all joy out of a room. No one, young or old, was immune to her death stares and cold remarks, with the exception of her affable limousine driver Ralph (Paul Giamatti).

As difficult as it was turning “Poppins” into a movie musical — and there weren’t many aspects of the script the persnickety Travers didn’t object to — it was a jolly holiday compared to the author’s childhood. Her father (Colin Farrell), whom she adored, was a hurricane, leaving others to clean up the messes he created. Travers’ mother (Ruth Wilson) was at the mercy of her husband’s whims and demons, and the toll it takes leads to the movie’s most disturbing scene.

Travers’ childhood flashbacks are often triggered by her collaborations with the principal developers of the “Mary Poppins” movie, screenwriter Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford) and the amazing Sherman Brothers songwriting team (B.J. Novak as Robert, Jason Schwartzman as Richard). “Mr. Banks” contains only a few short clips from the Oscar-winning 1964 movie, but the scenes in the rehearsal room, with Richard unveiling songs like “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” and “A Spoonful of Sugar,” remind us of the movie’s timeless charm.

Hanks’ Disney is full of charm, too, and this is not the movie to see for a warts-and-all look at the man behind the mouse. Travers received the bulk of the unflattering personality traits, and those traits form a wall between herself and those around her. The wall won’t come down easily, and maybe it’s up there for good. But a man versed in magic might be able to make it teeter a bit.

The movie, opening Dec. 20, is rated PG-13 for thematic elements, including some unsettling images.

Three and 1/2 (out of four)


Craig Marks is a cartoonist and editorial, sports and entertainment writer for the West Side Leader.

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