Saving Mr. Banks is a heartfelt true tale of the challenging process it took to bring the childhood classic Mary Poppins book to the screen. The sugary film stars Tom Hanks as Walt Disney; Emma Thompson as author PL Travers and Colin Farrell playing her father, in flashback sequences.
Director John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side, The Rookie) takes viewers on an inspirational journey of Travers’ troubled childhood in her native Queensland, Australia where we discover that her hoity toity Britishness was indeed, more of an act. We first see Travers as a frosty middle-aged woman who resides in a picturesque Chelsea terrace that immediately recalls the Banks family abode from Mary Poppins. It turns out Disney had been harrying her for the film rights for the past 20 years, desperate to turn his own children’s favorite book into another celebrated production (read our Saving Mr. Banks review).
Hancock points out that he was fascinated by Travers’ backstory and as soon as he read the script, he jumped on board. The research on this film was literally at his fingertips since Disney gave him open access to their archives and taped conversations between the Don Dagradi (Mary Poppins screenwriter played by Bradley Whitford); the Sherman Brothers (played by Jason Schwartzman and BJ Novak) and Walt Disney (Tom Hanks).
How did you come on board and how much did you know about the story?
John Lee Hancock: I had only seen the movie, I had not read the books before the script landed on my desk. When it did, I thought, well, I liked the movie Mary Poppins and there’s not going to be anything here for me. But when I read it, I was exposed to the tragic origins story from PL Travers childhood and there is a little detective story in there in a weird way, figuring things out and it was kind of cool.
It took Walt Disney twenty years to convince P.L. Travers to bring the magical nanny to the big screen, what were her reservations?
I think she was afraid, just like in the movie when you ask for sugar, they’re going to put a whole lot more in than you need. I think she was afraid that it would be animated and a cartoon and she thought this as being very real. And her doubts and her reluctance, yeah, I understand it, it’s well founded because it’s kind of what happened and she wasn’t happy with the finished product of the movie. So you know, but she needed the money.
There are flashbacks in the movie and a lot of people may not know that she was an Ozzie. How important was it to feature the flashback sequences?
I was struck by the idea of it because she is so “townified” as she would say in her own word, Londoner and she was such a proper, clipped British woman that people didn’t know about her coming from Australia. So when you see a woman who lives in Chelsea and is very put together and precise, the idea of a little girl on a ranch, riding horses doesn’t fit and that makes her ten times more fascinating to me.
You had a great cast. Talk about working with Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson.
They are the best. So talented. Emma was up first, I said, I want Emma Thompson to do this and she said yes, and then I thought, I have to have Tom Hanks to play Walt Disney or I don’t know what I’ll do. And he said yes. Right down the line, Colin Farrell was next and everybody said yes. So I’m lucky.
You wrote Snow White and the Huntsman…
I did a re-write on it, yes.
Are you involved in the sequel?
Which Disney character do you most identify with?
Wow, I don’t know! Maybe, I’m not sure… the flaws of Pinocchio, how about that?
That’s a very insightful answer. Thank you very much. It was a pleasure meeting you.
Pleasure meeting you too.
Saving Mr. Banks opens in theaters December 20, 2013.