Saving Mr. Banks is about author P.L. Travers reflection on her childhood after reluctantly meeting with Walt Disney, who seeks to adapt her Mary Poppins books for the big screen. Alternating between the 1960s production of Mary Poppins and P. L. Travers childhood in the early 1900s the story is told in non chronological order. The film would have still worked the same if told in order, but the shift between the different era keep things moving without contemplating its own purpose. Themes click a lot faster and character specific moments serve more than essential piece of development as they better correlate the connection Traverse has with her work. By its own structure it’s a design that juggles the correlation between Travers personal life and the work of fiction she holds so dear to her, silver lining the acceptance of change and letting go of the past, and a what it means to be a storyteller. All these ideas are balanced making the journey with earnest emotions. However its characters are a different story. This being a film about P. L. Traverse she is the most define and only three dimensional character. Everyone she interacts gets across a theme which in this story is a positive. Much like the flashback this provides depth in the main theme and sheds a light on how Traverse sees her work and understand the power it has on other.
One of theme that never comes full circle is addiction. While the core relationship of fatherly love works. What doesn’t work is the attempted correlation of addiction between Travers and her father. P. L. Traverse is at a point in her life where she stopped her addiction to tell stories and the core of Travers flashbacks is her father addiction to alcohol. The film wants to tell us that Travers has a deep connection towards her father, but unlike Travers where her inspiration for writing is clear of her father root is misguidedly vice versa. With no exploration in what triggered Traverse drinking problem it also negates what made Traverse stop writing in the first place. Things are missing from these two backstory with one having no beginning and the other having no ending. Still, it’s for it few flaws the story can connect to the viewer no matter how much of it is accepted as truth or fiction.
In a movie about artists that are addicted to their craft, you need actors that work with the same type of fervor. Emma Thompson despite not getting top billing gets the most screen time, gets the toughest job, and delivers the film best performance. She becomes very dislikable and yet sympathetic at the same time. Tom Hanks gives Walt Disney a humanized performance that separates the flawed man from the myth the Disney Company. The rest of the cast does not disappoint, and we even see Colin Farrell potentially impresses as the loving yet extremely defective father figure. Paul Giamatti chief amongst the supporting actors as Travers’ driver, Ralph, a doleful puppy in human form that responds to every brush-off and verbal slap with another smile and encouraging word. There’s no lazy leaning towards slapstick or cheap shots, rather director John Lee Hancock steers their scenes gently allowing both the frostiness and the occasional sprinkles of sunlight to sparkle with sincerity. Hancock visually is creative in framing a true story to be grander than it probably was. One particular noticeable sequence is when the creative team performs one of the songs and Travers has a flashback. For a film that is about the writing process, Saving Mr. Banks never really shows about the writing process that Travers goes through, but explores the writing process of adapting a work, from one medium to another.
Saving Mr. Banks is more about fathers and a storyteller emotional connection towards their work than it is about the making of a beloved film. With a focus on the bigger picture it gives a better understanding of the value that storytellers hold to their work which in some form or another is seen as an extension. It’s a film that can connects to storytellers as strongly to any kind of audience.