When I first heard about “Saving Mr. Banks”, I had the same thought a lot of other Disney enthusiasts had: please don’t suck.
After watching the movie mere yards from the setting of one of the sequences, I can happily say that the movie is a triumph.
While I had understood that the movie was going to be about the making of “Mary Poppins” - this new release draws its title from the name of the father in "Marry Poppins" - I was unaware that this was really going to be a movie about fatherhood, with a heavy emphasis on Mary Poppins author P. L. Travers’ relationship with her own father. As it turns out, the story also deals with Walt Disney’s role as a father, his relationship with his own father, and even a supporting character’s role as a father. Movies about the making of movies are nothing new, and since getting Mary Poppins from books to the silver screen was a bit of an ordeal, to put it mildly, with lots of conflict, it makes for a good story. Walt Disney & his team clashed with Travers, and although the finished production didn't quite conform to Travers' wishes, "Marry Poppins" was financially successful and garnered popular and critical acclaim. However, "Saving Mr. Banks" does not even mention those results.
The movie divides its time between Traver's childhood in Australia, and the early 1960s, espcially when Travers, having traveled from England, was working at the Disney Studios in Burbank with the Sherman Brothers, who were responsible for making magical music, and screenwriter Don DaGradi. It is those flashbacks to Australia that make this movie something you might not want to show to young children, as there is prominent alcohol abuse and related problems. I don’t know how accurate the portrayal was of Travers’ life and I suspect some scenes were changed from real life for dramatic effect, but from what I've gathered over the years as a Disney enthusiast, the movie did get a lot right as far as corresponding to the reality of what happened in California.
A good story written well, historical accuracy, and good directing are aided by some stellar acting. Emma Thompson is masterful as the adult Travers. Tom Hanks does about as good of a job bringing Walt Disney back into our lives as anyone could. Paul Giamatti is one of my favorite character actors and he plays Travers’ driver while she is in California, and I don’t know if his character was based on one real person or not, but he helps round out the story. The film got Walt Disney’s cough, his first-name policy, even the Smoke Tree Ranch STR tie clip he’d wear. My heart was warmed when I realized a "Feed the Birds" scene was starting. It would have been criminal for this movie to NOT have a scene involving that song. Since I’ve met the Sherman Brothers on several occasions and been fortunate enough to talk with them multiple times, it was a real kick seeing them portrayed by actors, and again, the things that the movie got right. Richard Sherman and Diane Disney Miller were both consulted for the film, so it makes sense.
There’s a three-scene sequence at Disneyland. Interestingly, the last movie that I know of given permission and cooperation to film inside Disneyland was “That Thing You Do”, which was a Tom Hanks project, too. Anyway, the scenes are at the Main Entrance, then on Main Street (complete with a shot of Sleeping Beauty Castle), and then on King Arthur’s Carousel. Of course, all three of these things look noticeably different now than in 1961, when the sequence was supposed to have taken place. The Carousel itself has been moved several yards, but only serious Disneyland enthusiasts may notice the anachronisms. The background during the Main Street sequence is sufficiently out of focus to obscure the differences - although not so with the Castle, and for the most part, the Carousel scene is, too, but you can still make out the entrance to Pinocchio's Daring Journeys, which wasn’t added until 1983. They show people mobbing Walt and him passing out pre-autographed slips of paper, which is something he did to save time.
The film is very much about fatherhood, especially the relationship between daughters and fathers, as the father of a daughter, I highly recommend it. As a Disney enthusiast, I also recommend it. If you're just looking for a good movie for grown ups that isn't dumbed-down or full of violence, sex, or crude language, you'll likely enjoy it.
I will be keeping my eye out for a dramatization of the production of this movie: "Saving 'Saving Mr. Banks'".