Imagine Mary Poppins without made-up words, dancing animated penguins, or music. Walt Disney and P. L. Travers, the author of the Mary Poppins book series, had completely different visions for the movie. Travers had no intention of signing off on the rights for film adaptation. “Saving Mr. Banks” tells the backstory of Walt Disney’s twenty-year fight with Travers to transform the book into a movie. The film reveals that Disney had promised to his daughters, when they were children, that he would make the series into a movie, and flew the author out to Los Angeles to make it happen.
Emma Thompson did an excellent job portraying Travers as a difficult woman to work with, as she was against many of Disney’s ideas for the film. She also had very specific requests, like requiring the filmmakers to tape record all of the conversations she had with them about the planning of the movie. Travers’ difficult personality was influenced by her dark past, growing up in rural Australia with her alcoholic father, who passed away when she was a child. Of course, the film could not tell every detail about Travers’ life, so I left the movie theatre curious and looked her up when I got home. Much to my dismay, the film failed to mention that Travers had an adopted son. This would have brought a different dynamic into the film because Travers is portrayed as being unfriendly and not very motherly, even though her book series was intended for children.
A part of the film that I loved was the recreation of the glitzy Mary Poppins movie premiere. It was the first time that Travers met Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke, whom she did not want for the role of Burt, yet appeared to be pleased with them. However, “Saving Mr. Banks” shows Travers sobbing through the entire premiere, which is most likely not historically accurate. There is an anecdote from the premiere, where Travers asks Disney to take the animated penguins out of the movie (she had a serious issue with animation) to which Disney replies, “Pamela, the ship has sailed.”
When Oscar nominations were announced, I was disappointed that Thompson was not nominated for Best Actress. She brought Travers to life by standing her ground throughout the film. The film’s composer, Thomas Newman, received a nomination for Best Original Score, as he rearranged many of the famous tunes from Mary Poppins into a score that added to the authenticity of the film.