More than just a spoonful of sugar... | Daily News
Saving Mr Banks

More than just a spoonful of sugar...

Academy award winning artistes Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks lock horns in John Lee Hancock’s ‘Saving Mr Banks’ which tells the story of how the popular fantasy musical ‘Mary Poppins’ came onto the wide screen.

Thompson gives life to P L Travers, the persnickety author and creator of ‘Mary Poppins’ who has been flown to LA to grant Walt Disney Pictures the rights to make a movie out of her no-nonsense nanny. Though Disney has promised his daughters to bring the story onto the silver screen, Travers has kept him at arms length by not granting him the rights of her tale.

The film picks up at the start of this tug of war in 1961 when, upon her agent’s insistence, Travers unwillingly succumbs to the idea allowing Disney to proceed with his task. Travers’ entrance to USA and her welcome at Walt Disney Studios is hilariously presented at the beginning of the movie signifying what is in store for the audience. As the story proceeds we realize that things get better. This is no serious biography or movie relating a past incident but a production scattered with wit and humour.

While all the other characters are cheery and hospitable Travers remains grumpy and difficult to please. Without the agreement fully signed, she wants to have full control over the pre production of the film. A countless scenes are dedicated to show Travers flinging insults and shutting down every idea that Disney’s writers and lyricists put forth. She claims that singing is ‘frivolous’ and that she cannot bear the idea of animations being projected in her movie. She even wants the colour red to be out of the picture. All her thoughts are influenced by melodramatic flashbacks.

The film bounces back and forth into the past and present from the Australian settings and harsh experiences of Traverse’ childhood to the making of ‘Mary Poppins’ the movie. It reveals that Travers grew up charmed by the imaginative attention of her banker father. The family had to move from their comfortable home in the city to the outback where Travers’ parents gradually distance themselves from each other because her father takes to the bottle. After a couple of scenes in which her father ends up nearly getting fired from his job due to his addiction to alcohol, the episodes turn gloomy because he falls desperately ill. Unable to bear the situation any longer Travers’ mother nearly commits suicide and only survives when her daughter beckons her back to her senses. In the midst of this chaos their mother’s sister visits them and takes matters into her hands promising that all will be well in the family. This is basically where Mary Poppins originated from but as the story proceeds we realize that the film is not centered around the origin of the main character of the ‘Mary Poppins’ tale after all. It is much more complicated and emotional. It is not about Travers’ creative differences with Disney but more about her internal struggle with her past.

Thompson does wonders in portraying the sourpuss-faced Travers. Though she is annoying and particular about the silliest details at times, Thompson presents the bitter spinster in a surprisingly likable manner. Thompson has finally laid her hands on a role which demands the best of her talents in years and carries the film on her shoulders with grace, adding layers of class to the production.

Tom Hanks does a fine job in breathing life to the legendary Walt Disney. Though the film actually belongs to Thompson, Hanks takes to his role like a pair of cozy slippers.

Paul Giamatti portrays the role of the doughy chauffeur Ralph and B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman step into the shoes of the songwriting Sherman brothers with ease. Colin Farrell charms as Travers’ father but his act gradually turns monotonous.

One of the few short comings in ‘Saving Mr Banks’ is that the flashbacks seem overused. This not only confuses the viewers but can be a barrier to their enjoyment as well. Delicately presented and brilliantly acted ‘Saving Mr Banks’ presents the theme of overcoming the past to embrace an uncertain future.

As one of Disney’s hottest property of the past, the flying nanny turns 50, the Mouse House has paid a fitting tribute to the production with ‘Saving Mr Banks’. The irony of the production is that in saving Mr Banks from being portrayed in negative light in the ‘Mary Poppins’ movie, Traverse ends up saving herself as well. This is a novel twist to the behind the scenes story relating that a spoonful of sugar does indeed help the medicine go down.