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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Friday, Nov. 28, 2014

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In Movies & TV Commentary

Emma Thompson stars as "Mary Poppins" writer P.L. Travers and Tom Hanks is Walt Disney in "Saving Mr. Banks."

In Movies & TV Commentary

Colin Farrell plays the father of a young P.L. Travers in "Saving Mr. Banks."

Disney serves merely as a backdrop for "Saving Mr. Banks"


When "Saving Mr. Banks" comes to Blu-ray and DVD on Tuesday, audiences will get an insider's look at what it took for Walt Disney to earn the right to make "Mary Poppins."

But, there is so much more below the surface that makes this film great.

There is something to be said about experiencing a film of this nature in the comfort of home, in comparison to going to the movie theater during the holidays – and "Saving Mr. Banks" is one of those that drives the point home, literally. When viewing with family members at home, it is easy to go straight into a discussion of the memories a film like this and stir up without having to wait for the car ride home.

On the surface, the film is incredibly cast with Tom Hanks bringing to life the Walt Disney most of us remember watching on television. But he also had to bring to life the Disney that those that worked at the studio remembered. Disney was a man who enjoyed what he did, and throughout each day, he'd make the rounds to visit every part of the studio.

Emma Thompson gets the task of taking P.L. Travers, the author of the "Mary Poppins" series of stories, on a journey from being the frumpy woman set in her ways to one who lets Disney take her beloved characters to the silver screen.

When OnMilwaukee.com's Matt Mueller reviewed the film for the theatrical release, he said the film was Disney's Christmas card to itself.

"Disney turns the woman into the villain and the company into the hero … namely because the company in the situation is, in fact, Disney," he wrote.

I disagree. The core story of this film has little to do with the making of a classic film. The process shown here only serves as the vehicle for how these characters deal with the conflict within themselves.

Throughout the film is a series of flashbacks to Travers' childhood living on the frontier in Australia. Actor Colin Farrell brings to life Travers Goff, the writer's banker father who struggles with life by using the bottle and becomes a huge influence on his daughter's life and her novels.

The Disney studio and the process of making the musical that "Mary Poppins" turns out to be is simply the back drop to the story. At the core, "Saving Mr. Banks" is the tale of a girl who has to come to terms with the demons her father faced and how to process the love-hate relationship she has in the past to determine the course of her future.

Modeling "Mr. Banks" in her stories off of her own father, it was important to her what Disney and the creative team did with the nanny that flew into her family's life – both real and fiction.

The dancing animated penguins in "Mary Poppins" were there to simply entertain. The music that Richard (Jason Schwartzman) and Robert (B.J. Novak) Sherman deliver in the process of creating the film, as well as the banter between Thompson's Travers and Hanks' Disney, is there to frame the people involved at a point in time.

But the core story – and it's something any one of us who have had to process the conflicts in memories of those that have gone before us – is one that is masterfully told by director John Lee Hancock and the cast and crew that surrounds him.

The Blu-ray extras are few, but the gem is the short that Hancock gives of the Disney Studios lot, chalked full of stories from the early 1960s, when "Mary Poppins" was brought to life.

Those that hold Disney films and history in high regard will enjoy this film, but those of us who consider themselves storytellers – like Walt Disney and P.L. Travers were – will truly love this film.

And if you watch it with family, "Saving Mr. Banks" may spur a much-needed conversation based on the raw emotions this film evokes.

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