Like all films, Saving Mr. Banks started life as a screenplay. It was penned by Sue Smith and Kelly Marcel and was based on the biography Poppins She Wrote by Valerie Lawson about the author of the Mary Poppins books. The screenplay was quickly picked up by BBC Films. Realizing that Disney had the intellectual property they desperately wanted for the film, including songs and references to some of its characters, the script was sent to president of production at Disney, Sean Baily. It rose up through Alan Horn and Bob Iger, who realized the film fit well into the recently defined types of films the studio would make, particularly its low-cost heartwarming type inspired by the success of The Blind Side.
Director John Lee Hancock, who was attached to the film before Disney got involved (and who also directed The Blind Side), was concerned when Disney came on board. He felt that they would want to make drastic edits to the script and their portrayal of Walt. However, Disney’s only requested change was that they omit any scene where a character is shown inhaling a cigarette. This also would ensure that the MPAA wouldn’t give the film an R rating.
With Disney’s involvement, the production team gained access to the Walt Disney Archives, which has the original recordings of Travers’ story sessions for the film and letters back and forth between herself and Walt from before, during, and after production. While based on a true story and presented as factual, many of the events in the film are fictional. In reality, Travers signed over the rights to Disney before her story sessions. Travers’ opinion of the final film was different depending on who was asking her about it, but she is famous for being very unhappy with the final product. Sadly, Walt also never tricked Travers into visiting Disneyland with him.
The film opens with a vintage-looking “Walt Disney Presents” logo that combines the 90’s blue castle with retro font. The story starts in London in 1961 when P.L. Travers’ manager arrives at her flat to find out that she has canceled her trip to Los Angeles to meet with Walt Disney. He talks her back into it, reminding her that her money is in short supply and that she has final script approval, meaning she doesn’t have to sign over the rights if she doesn’t want to.
Pamela is seemingly overprotective of her intellectual property to the point of seeming ridiculous. Frequent flashbacks to her childhood provide insight into why she is the way she is and why she fights Walt, the Sherman brothers, and Don DaGradi so hard over seemingly unimportant attributes of the story and characters.It becomes clear as the story unfolds that the character Mary Poppins represents something fundamentally important to Travers and that her stories were written for parents, not children. This is the key that Walt needs to learn to convince her to sign over the film rights. Mary Poppins didn’t come to save the children; she came to save Mr. Banks.
The film shocked me when I saw it last fall. I was completely unprepared for how emotional it was and how deeply it would affect me. While Travers is famous for being unlikable, Thompson’s performance humanizes her into a tortured victim of her sad childhood. The story of Mary Poppins is sure to have new meaning for all who watch it afterwards.
For her role as Pamela Travers, Emma Thompson spent considerable time listening to the audiotapes from the story meetings. She even altered her personal hair style to match Travers’ coiffure. Tom Hanks did his share of listening to old Walt recordings as well to try to capture his Midwest accent. He also visited The Walt Disney Family Museum and consulted with Walt’s daughter, Diane Disney Miller, about who her father was. The museum leant him some of Walt’s jewelery and costume designers made recreations of his Smoke Tree Ranch embroidered neckties. Also, the mustache he has in the film was real.
After being screened at nearly every major film festival last fall, Saving Mr. Banks was released on December 13th, 2013, in select cities and entered wide release on December 20th. With critical acclaim and Oscar buzz, the film was a moderate hit grossing $83 million domestically, compared to its relatively low budget of $23 million. Sadly the film was snubbed by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Its only nomination was for its score by Thomas Newman.
The film arrived on Blu-Ray, DVD, and HD Digital on March 18th. As is Disney’s latest trend, the Blu-Ray does not include a DVD copy of the film in an effort to wean consumers off of the format and towards digital.
The film looks stunning in 1080p high definition on Blu-Ray. The cinemascope production shows every detail and performances are allowed to shine just as bright as they did in a movie theater.
Language options are English 5.1 DTS-HDMA, English Descriptive Video Service 2.0 Dolby Digital, French 5.1 Dolby Digital, and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital. The English surround sound track has little need to use the rear speakers, but subtly does so occasionally.
Saving Mr. Banks is light on bonus features. The bonus features that are present are sure to delight every Disney fan. However, they have failed to present insight into the making of the film. I personally was hoping to see Thompson and Hanks talk about the research and work that went into their portrayal of P. L. Travers and Walt Disney.
- Deleted Scenes – 7 minutes
- Stargaze – In this cut flashback to Pamela’s childhood, she witnesses her parents having a rare tender moment.
- Nanny Song – Pam asks the Sherman Brothers to play another song while she keeps an open mind about the film being a musical. The song is “Perfect Nanny” and she fights every lyric.
- Pam Leaves – Walt tries to have a heart-to-heart with Pam before she leaves for London.
- The Walt Disney Studios: From Poppins to the Present – A 15-minute featurette where director John Hancock compares what Walt Disney Studios in Burbank was like when Mary Poppins was made in comparison to today. It is full of wonderful bits of unknown information and interviews with people who worked there at that time, including Richard Sherman in his original office.
- “Let’s Go Fly A Kite” – On the final day of filming, Richard Sherman sat at a piano and lead the cast and crew in a sing-along of “Let’s Go Fly A Kite.” This is a recording of that event that runs under 2-minutes in length.
For those of you who still prefer DVD, your only bonus feature is the deleted scene “Nanny Song.”
Menu & Packaging
The Blu-Ray disc is housed in a single-disc case, which includes an embossed slipcover with a red foil border in its original pressing. There is a single insert inside with your Disney Movie Rewards/Digital Copy + code.
The menu is of the tape reel playing on a desk with jellybeans as you hear Travers arguing with the creative team. The disc opens with trailers for Mary Poppins 50th Anniversary Blu-Ray, Maleficent, and a new anti-smoking PSA with Eugene Levy. Selecting previews from the main menu also plays them for Disney Movie Rewards, Disney Parks, and Sleeping Beauty Diamond Edition,
The digital copy is redeemable in High Definition through iTunes, Amazon, Google Play and Vudu. Redeeming your code on Disney Movie Rewards will also unlock a standard definition copy in Disney Movies Anywhere. I redeemed my copy on iTunes, which in a rare twist for a recent Disney release doesn’t include any bonus features.
I loved Saving Mr. Banks when I saw it in theaters and I was thrilled to watch it again in the comfort of my home. All of the included bonus features are worthwhile, but Disney certainly could have done more. A commentary and making-of would have been wonderful additions to give fans some insight into the making of this wonderful film. Its exclusion at the Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Actress felt insulting, but the film will hold its own as one of the best the studio has made in recent history.
Alex is currently watching and reviewing all of Disney’s films in chronological order. You can follow along here.
Alex has been blogging about Disney films since 2009 after a lifetime of fandom. He joined the Laughing Place team in 2014 and covers films across all of Disney’s brands, including Star Wars, Marvel, and Fox, in addition to books, music, toys, consumer products, and food. You can hear his voice as a member of the Laughing Place Podcast and his face can be seen on Laughing Place’s YouTube channel where he unboxes stuff.