Arguably the greatest of Walt Disney’s live-action productions, 1964’s Mary Poppins almost never made it to the screen, as Australian author P.L. Travers was passionately against a film adaptation of her beloved children’s novels. While Saving Mr. Banks does soften some of the finer details, the stand-offs between Travers and Disney during the film’s development retain as much frustration and pain as they do charm and humour.

In 1961, Walt Disney invited P.L. Travers to his Hollywood studios in a desperate effort to convince her to release the screen rights to Mary Poppins. Travers took exception to almost every element of the production, clashing repeatedly with Disney and composers Richard & Robert Sherman over every design, note and lyric. Simultaneously, in extended flashback we leant of Travers’ troubled childhood in rural Australia, and the plight of her loving yet alcoholic father (Colin Farrell) – events that would tragically inspire her writing.

While Saving Mr. Banks hinges on a conflict of creative ideals, it is full of the same warmth and unabashed joy that courses through Mary Poppins itself. Much of that is due to the snatches of familiar songs that can be heard throughout, but ultimately it is the performances from Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson that delight. Hanks sells Disney as a compassionate dreamweaver desperate to share Poppins with the world, while Thompson is wonderful as the intolerable P.L. Travers, whose hard-nosed exterior shields a vulnerable artist, but also a damaged woman still trying to reconcile the ghosts from her past.

This review first appeared in Cathay Pacific’s Discovery Magazine, April 2014

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