Why is Saving Mr. Banks (2013) such a wonderful film? You can start with Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks, two of the finest actors of our time. You could follow them with Mary Poppins (1964), the Disney family classic starring a very young Julie Andrews and a very likeable Dick Van Dyke. Is that enough?
No, well then how about 45 minutes of music from the Mary Poppins soundtrack, including still recognizable songs like Chim Chim Cher-ee, Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, and Let’s Go Fly a Kite, all composed by the Sherman brothers.
Still not enough? OK, then I’ll mention great supporting performances by Colin Farrell, Paul Giamatti, and Bradley Whitford, all of whom had to play roles that moved from comedy to pathos, from frustration to almost frolic, without letting themselves slip into tripe on either end of the spectrum.
In addition–even though you didn’t ask–Saving Mr. Banks is a wonderfully told story—but not the same story as the book. The book Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers (born Helen Lyndon Goff, 1899–1996) first appeared in 1934, and is about a magical nanny and her adventures in the household of Mr. Banks.
Prior to the Disney film, only five books appeared in the series. After the film, Travers published three more volumes to add to the series, the last Mary Poppins and the House Next Door appearing in 1988.
But the film dramatizes the internal struggle of Travers to let go of her characters, to let Disney give them to the world, risking an almost unbearable exposure of her own family’s story buried especially in the character of Mr Banks.
Tom Hanks’ portrayal of Walt Disney—the first time Disney is ever portrayed on-screen by an actor—is absolutely believable. Disney was an unusual businessman, artist, and a visionary. Hanks is able to capture all of these qualities without caricature.
What makes Saving Mr. Banks work is that the audience is able to believe in the transformation that takes place. It’s not miraculous, it’s not without struggle, it’s not even without loss, yet the redemptive story results in a typically British understated happiness that the audience can believe and share in.
The only parts of the film that would be difficult for younger children are the flashbacks to Travers’ childhood. Her father’s alcoholism and eventual death emotionally impact his daughter, so your sons and daughters will be confronted equally.
If you want some talking points after the film is over to use with your children, you might try these:
- How did you feel about the father and daughter’s relationship in the flashbacks?
- Why do you think the young girl felt betrayed when her father died?
- Why do you think Mrs. Travers was so hard to get along with in the beginning?
- Did you feel like Walt Disney liked Mrs. Travers or was he just trying to make his movie so he could make more money?
- Did you like the car driver? Was he important in this movie?
- Did sharing her characters in the movie make Mrs. Travers happy?
Saving Mr. Banks is definitely one of the top films of 2013. It should be nominated for Best Picture, but even if it is too schmaltzig for the Academy, I think you will love it!