Saving Mr Banks, the latest from director John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side), reveals the trials and tribulations of adapting P.L Travers’ popular series of children novels into Mary Poppins, one of the greatest and most beloved screen musicals ever made. The story shifts between Travers childhood in Queensland, Australia in 1906 and her 1961 negotiations with Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) as he attempts to obtain the screen rights to her novels. Invited to California for a fortnight briefing during the pre-production stage, Travers (Emma Thompson) reflects on her childhood – and especially her father, the inspiration for the story’s patriarch Mr Banks – and is stubbornly adamant that Disney and the film’s screenwriters and composers take no liberties with her personal vision.
One’s understanding of Mary Poppins – to at least seen it once – is useful to appreciating this film. But certainly not imperative. It is relaxing, technically pleasing, feel-good charmer that benefits from the fine performances. Many viewers will recognize the songs written by the Sherman Brothers (portrayed by Jason Schwarzman and B.J Novak in Saving Mr Banks) and it is entertaining throughout to hear their personal renditions of the eventual songs as an unpolished pitch. The same goes for Bradley Whitford’s work as co-screenwriter Don DaGradi, whose ideas for the characters eventually mold into the ones we know and love.
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