Watching Saving Mr. Banks, which tells the story of the making of the iconic Disney film, Mary Poppins, makes one wonder if such a film would work in the Indian context. On the surface, the film talks about Walt Disney’s wooing of reclusive writer P.L. Travers for the rights to her book, Mary Poppins. Travers is suspicious of Hollywood and is dead against animation. After holding out for 20 years, her agent finally convinces Travers to meet with Disney and his writers in Los Angeles. The film then follows the gradual thawing between Travers and Disney, also intercutting to show Travers’ traumatic childhood which included a charismatic but alcoholic father and a suicide attempt by her mother — it is enough to drive anyone round the bend.
Through the course of Saving Mr Banks, as the movie is being finalised, Travers goes from being a crotchety uncompromising author to dancing with the writer Don DaGrady. There is also a metaphoric journey Travers goes through where she finally confronts and lets go of her harrowing childhood.
The film is a terrific watch, thanks to the laser sharp writing working in tandem with excellent performances. Each of the characters are so well written and realised that we are willy-nilly drawn into their stories. So you have Colin Farrell as the alcoholic but loving father and Paul Giamatti as the chauffeur Ralph who might be the only American Travers gets to like. Apparently the producers approached Emma Thompson because they couldn’t get Meryl Streep. But watching Thompson as Travers bringing out every nuance of the character from irascible to vulnerable and everything in between, one cannot imagine anyone else in the role. And what can one say of Tom Hanks? As Disney he is the showman, the confidante, the artiste for who “the mouse was family” and the businessman who will not take no for an answer.
Like 2011’s My Week with Marilyn the film-within-the-film in Saving Mr Banks does not look very deeply into the Hollywood circa 1961. The film does have a happy ending; but unlike Travers fears, it doesn’t cavort and careen towards a happy ending like a kamikaze, rather it glides towards it gracefully.
Coming back to a similar exercise in the Indian context, it would be nice to see a movie on the making of Guide. All the ingredients are there — an iconic movie, a superstar, extraordinary music, a renowned novel and a legendary writer who was very unhappy with the film adaptation. But that is another story!
Director: John Lee Hancock
Cast: Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Paul Giamatti, Colin Farrell
Storyline: An inside look at the making of Mary Poppins
Bottomline: Heart-warming tale backed by solid performances and writing