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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Mar 11, 2014

Saving Mr. Banks Movie Review: How The Musical "Mary Poppins" Was Made

WE FINALLY saw “Saving Mr. Banks” which is about how the movie version of “Mary Poppins” was made by Walt Disney despite the resistance of the book’s author, P.L. Travers, for 20 years. “Mary Poppins” eventually won the Oscar best actress award for Julie Andrews in 1964, so this year is the film’s 50th anniversary. It’s more of a sympathy award for Julie then since she was bypassed in playing the lead role of “My Fair Lady” which she popularized on stage. “My Fair Lady” won Oscar best pic but Audrey Hepburn, who played Eliza Doolittle, was not nominated at all. The following year, Julie was nominated again for “The Sound of Music” but she didn’t win anymore when she is more deserving for her role as Maria than as Mary Poppins.

“Saving Mr. Banks” starts in Australia in 1906 showing a girl, Ginty (Annie Rose Buckley), and her dad, Travers Goff (Collin Farell). Then it jumps to 1961 in London with Mrs. Travers (Emma Thompson) being convinced by her agent to finally sell the rights of “Mary Poppins” to Walt Disney as she is in financial doldrums. Walt Disney continued wooing Mrs. Travers for 20 years because he has promised his daughters that he would turn their favorite book into a movie. The movie goes back and forth to 1906 and 1961.

At first, you don’t know what’s the connection between the two different stories, but it soon becomes apparent that the girl Ginty is actually Mrs. Travers. Ginty’s dad is an alcoholic and this eventually causes his downfall. Her mom (Ruth Wilson) nearly committed suicide but Ginty succeeds in rescuing her before she drowns herself in the river. And yes, there’s an actual nanny, her own aunt (Rachel Griffiths), who comes to help their family, but she is not at all magical like Mrs. Traver’s literary creation, Mary Poppins.

Because she’s hard up, Mrs. Travers finally agrees to go to Los Angeles to collaborate with the men Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) assigns to work with her: screenwriter Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford), and the songwriting brothers Robert (B.J. Novak) and Richard Sherman (Jason Schwartzman). Mrs. Travers is a pain in the ass for all of them. Rude and hard to please, she even resigns at one point and returns to London.

The film is eventually made (and is now also a hit musical on stage). “Saving Mr. Banks” shows how difficult the process of completing it was. It’s engrossing from start to finish, thanks to the tastefully written script by Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith. Director John Lee Hancock (“The Blind Side”) makes sure that the film doesn’t lapse into sentimentality and keeps the tone light.

Emma Thompson is perfect as the old curmudgeon of an eccentric woman with a big emotional baggage. Tom Hanks is also a stand out in his interpretation of Walt Disney. The scene where she tells Emma the sad story of his own childhood is a gem. Another great scene is when Tom takes Emma to visit his Disneyland. Why they were both ignored by the Oscars will be a mystery, especially Tom who is also good in “Captain Phillips”. The supporting cast is excellent, including Paul Giamatti as the driver, Ralph, assigned to Mrs. Travers who eventually becomes her friend.

The whole production is topnotch, especially the period costume and production design. You would enjoy it more if you’ve seen “Mary Poppins” on the big screen because you’ll be able to relive all the memorable songs in it like “Just a Spoonful of Sugar”, “Feed the Birds” and the rousing “Let’s Go Fly A Kite” that is the musical number which saves Mr. Banks (the father in “Mary Poppins” who Mrs. Travers doesn’t want to be portrayed as an evil man.) Watching “Saving Mr. Banks” is a nostalgic pleasure for us who’ve seen the original “Mary Poppins”. The musical is available on video so you might want to watch it first.