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Before Mary Poppins
Met cinema screens,
The gruff P. L. Travers
Kept her by all means.
The magical nanny
Was family to her,
And Disney would never
Take her, she was sure.
But life’s money troubles
Convinced her at last
To see what the mouse king
Was planning so fast.
Disappointments built up,
And her fears were confirmed:
The script and song writers
Explained as she squirmed.
Their Poppins too frivolous,
Songs too carefree,
They just could not please her,
Nor could Walt Disney.
Their cruel Mr. Banks
Brought back pained memories
Of her drunken father
Who tried so to please.
Despite a stern aunt
Whipping all into shape,
The cares of this world
Travers could not escape.
It took some script changes
For her to begin
To see the film project
As more than a sin.
But when animation,
Which she could not stand,
Was still to be present,
She left for England.
When Disney himself
Made a sudden house call,
He calmly assured her
He would not appall;
He’d bring Mr. Banks
To life, a road paved
By all of her stories,
And he would be saved.
Her father was dead,
But there on the screen,
Both perfect and flawed,
His salvation was seen.

The most recent of my top 100 films, Saving Mr. Banks is not even a year old at the time of this post, yet its acting and insightful peek at a laborious creative process marked it as an instant classic. More and more films are resorting to the depiction of creating other films (think Hugo, The Artist, Hitchcock), yet such films continue to offer compelling stories and fascinating details that haven’t gotten old yet, and Saving Mr. Banks is no exception.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is known for infamous snubs, yet the fact that Saving Mr. Banks did not receive one acting nomination is unforgivable (Thomas Newman’s score was nominated—that’s it). Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson contribute astounding performances to their already distinguished careers; Walt Disney and P. L. Travers come to life in a powerful, character-driven way that spans every emotion, from joy to disgust to sorrow to utter frustration. Yet despite some weighty backstories for both, the entire film has the light, optimistic ambience of Disney World (the Disney World that kids see, minus all the lines and headaches). Thompson’s pomposity and rudeness don’t fit in this land where cartoons and songs are the norm, but every minute of her gradual easing into something like fulfillment (and I do mean gradual) is a pleasure to watch. Likewise, Hanks’s Disney is con man, big cheese, and lovable uncle all rolled into one familiar package, yet with astute glimpses into previously unseen aspects of the master entertainer.

I applaud films that bring little-known players to the fore, such as Mary Poppins co-scriptwriter Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford) and the talented Sherman Brothers musical team (B. J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman), not to mention Paul Giamatti’s genial turn as Travers’s fictionalized chauffeur. Lovers of the Mary Poppins film are sure to enjoy the details that seem to be directly inspired by Travers and the development of a childhood classic. Like in Holes, flashbacks are woven through the narrative, revealing additional inspirations for the Mary Poppins characters and providing Colin Farrell a heart-breaking role as the author’s good-natured but alcoholic father.

Considering that Saving Mr. Banks was released at the height of the Christmas season, it was obvious Oscar fodder, and it deserved so many more accolades than it received. Was it because it was too clean? Was it because Tom Hanks’s performance, coupled with the one in Captain Phillips that year, was somehow overlooked in favor of non-Oscar winners? I don’t know, but Saving Mr. Banks is a worthy behind-the-scenes look at the beloved Mary Poppins, even if it Disney-fies proceedings that were even more problematic than the film depicts. Regardless of how much was fictionalized, it was one of the best films of 2013.

Best line: (Walt Disney, reassuring Travers toward the end) “George Banks and all he stands for will be saved. Maybe not in life, but in imagination. Because that’s what we storytellers do. We restore order with imagination. We instill hope again and again and again.”

Rank: 54 out of 60

© 2014 S. G. Liput

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