Film: Saving Mr. Banks

"Mary Poppins and the Bankses, they’re family to me."
P.L. Travers

Saving Mr. Banks is a movie directed by John Lee Hancock and based on the true story of the production of the 1964 Disney classic Mary Poppins. Emma Thompson stars as P.L. Travers, author of the original Mary Poppins novels, who after much resistance, finally travels to Hollywood to serve as a consultant on the adaptation of the movie. There she meets Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) and his staff of writers and musicians who are hard at work adapting her story to the screen. However, having been given unprecedented creative control in return for the film rights, Travers shows herself to be a tough person to work with considering her demands range from reasonable, to the ridiculously obstructive.

Intercut with this is the story of Travers' childhood in Australia, particularly focused on her relationship with her father (Colin Farrell), a banker who is filled with energy and happiness, but whose health and career are at constant risk due to his alcoholism. As the two stories play out, it is eventually revealed why Travers is so protective of her story, and Disney realizes what he has to do to make the movie work.

The movie was released on December 13, 2013 in the US, but opened on November 29, 2013 in the UK. The trailer can be seen here.


"Troping Mr. Banks":

  • Abusive Parents. As much as Walt loved his father, Elias Disney would be most likely considered to fit this trope by modern audiences. Elias ran a newspaper delivery business in Kansas City, Missouri, and being a cheapskate, insisted that eight-year-old Walt and his older brother Roy act as his delivery boys rather than paying actual employees. Walt describes plunging into snowdrifts over his head as a child, twice a day, to deliver the morning and the evening papers, while wearing worn clothes and leaky shoes because his father didn't want to have to pay for anything, and then sitting through school, unable to concentrate due to being soaking wet and exhausted. And if he or his brother objected to the work, his father would whip them with the buckle end of his belt.
  • Adaptation Decay: Travers considers it her duty to prevent this from happening. She doesn't succeed, but doesn't seem to mind to much (except for those penguins).
  • Alcoholic Parent: Travers Goff.
  • Anachronism Stew:
    • Travers' first visit to her hotel room shows a bunch of Disney character plushes, one of which is a Winnie-the-Pooh doll. Disney's version of Pooh didn't hit the screen until 1966.
    • Zig-zagged in regards to Disneyland. Several changes were made to the real one to make it look like how it was during Walt's time (i.e. the area in front of the train station is lined with attraction posters). However, Fantasyland remains unchanged despite going through a complete renovation in 1983, less than 20 years after the release of Mary Poppins. Since the renovation involved intensive rebuilding of ride exteriors and moving the location of some of the actual rides (such as the carousel), changing it back for the film would have been impossible.
    • Almost all of the suited Disney characters at the park are the modern versions, with the exception of Mickey at the premier.
    • The modern Walt Disney Animation Studios logo also prominently appears several times within the context of the movie. Which is especially curious considering that the actual opening Vanity Plate has some retro touches.
    • The hand-held signs for Warner Bros. and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer are of their modern incarnations instead of their 1960s logos.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Travers is not impressed by the huge amount of Disney merchandise she finds waiting in her hotel room, and ends up stuffing nearly all of it in a closet, before removing a bunch of pears from the room's fruit bowl. The latter one seems like another minor eccentricity of hers, but later turns out to be much more significant.
  • Artistic License – History: No, P.L Travers didn't like the final version of Mary Poppins, hence why Disney only got to do one book from the series. However, it wouldn't make the story they were telling (her learning to let go of the past) flow as well. Not to mention make for a bit of a Downer Ending from the company standpoint.
    • On the other hand, they kind of kept Traver's opinion of the final product ambiguous; she definitely looks mortified when she sees specific scenes she objected to, and though we see her crying later, it could be either crying because she hates it or crying because of the memories it invokes of her father. Also, you can hate a film but still acknowledge it has redeeming moments.
      • For what it's worth, according to IMDb, Travers said in a 1977 interview that "It's glamorous and it's a good film on its own level, but I don't think it is very like my books."
    • Another example in real life: Travers signed over the rights before any consulting was done and before she even traveled to Los Angeles.
    • According to Richard Sherman, Travers and Disney didn't have many interactions face-to-face as the movie depicts. Most of their communication was over the phone.
  • Blunt "Yes": When Travers indignantly asks if they're implying Mrs. Banks is a neglectful mother, Don and Richard hem and haw uncomfortably, but Bob...
    Bob: Yup.
  • Bookends: The film starts and ends with flashbacks of Travers' childhood while Colin Farrell recites the lyrics to "Chim Chim Cher-ee", as sung at the beginning of the Mary Poppins film and stage show. (Bonus points for explicitly mentioning that "all happened before.")
    Farrell: Wind's in the east. Mist coming in.
    Like something is brewing, about to begin.
    Can't put me finger on what lies in store,
    But I feel what's to happen all happened before.
  • Butt Monkey: A mild example with Walt's secretary, whom Mrs. Travers treats as the butt of her barbs.
  • Comically Missing the Point: When Travers inquires about the penguins, specifically asking if they're going to be trained, dancing penguins, one of the Sherman Brothers brightly informs her they will be animated. She immediately storms out and he gets dirty looks from all around... which leads him to wonder if they are going to be live, trained penguins.
  • Companion Cube: Surprisingly, a giant stuffed Mickey Mouse doll that was one of many gifts that Disney put in Travers' hotel room ends up becoming this as the film progresses. Initially she hides it away in the corner of the room — which is still better treatment than she gave to the rest of the gifts, which just got stuffed in the closet — but later on she starts taking it to bed with her, and it's eventually revealed that she even took it back to London.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Travers.
  • Development Hell: In-universe. It took over twenty years for Disney to get the film rights to Travers' books.
  • Dies Wide Open: Travers Goff.
  • Disabled Means Helpless: Shot down when Travers gives Ralph, whose wheelchair-using daughter is said to not get out much, a laundry list of famous people with physical or mental disabilities, including his own employer.
  • Disneyfication: The Movie. It's all about an author fighting this approach to her work (by Walt Disney himself, no less) and losing.
    • And, as a meta example, it's a Disneyfied story about Disneyfication, since in the film Travers appears to like the final movie she hated in Real Life (see Artistic License – History), making the ending more upbeat.
  • Don't You Dare Pity Me!: Walt Disney says this after talking about how his father Elias would send him out in the morning and evening to deliver newspapers in deep snowdrifts. He says his life is a miracle, and his father was a good parent, and to move on from the past to make a brighter future in fiction.
    • Travers also seems to carry this attitude about her, and encourages her driver Ralph to not feel sorry for his wheelchair-bound daughter, to know that she can do anything.
  • Dramatically Missing the Point: In-story, when Travers complains that they are making her story too whimsical, and that Mary Poppins (the character) has no sense of whimsy about her, Disney tries to call her out on it. It doesn't work, but does lead him to make the dramatic realization as to why she's so guarded with the story:
    P.L. Travers: (beat) "You think Mary Poppins is saving the children, Mr. Disney?" (looks at the other filmmakers, then back to Disney) "Oh, dear."
  • Eureka Moment: When Disney finds out P.L. Travers's real name, Helen Goff. He's able to figure out that she took her father's first name Travers as her surname, and is loyal to him. This allows him to perform armchair psychology on her.
  • Executive Meddling: Zig-Zagged In-Universe. For the most part, it's Travers who meddles with the production, but Walt Disney makes demands of his own, such as his insistence, against Travers' wishes, that Mr. Banks be given a mustache.
    • Which Travers Goff (the inspiration for Mr. Banks) did have in real life (but not in the film).
  • First Name Basis: Everybody in Disney's inner circle. Averted by Travers, who insists on being called "Mrs. Travers", except by Ralph the chauffeur. When she calls Disney by his first name Walter, late in the film, it marks her change of heart.
  • Foregone Conclusion: The movie gets made. They also keep the dancing animated penguins, whether Mrs. Travers likes it or not.
  • Foreshadowing: Walt has a particularly nasty cough in the film which foreshadows his real-life death from lung cancer in 1966.
    • In an early scene, Travers throws all the pears out of the fruit basket Walt sent her. It's revealed later that she was out buying pears when her father died.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: In a later scene in Walt's office there is a map of Florida; in the late '60s Walt and his team were in the process buying up land there for Walt Disney World. And right behind that map is Rolly Crump's iconic concept art for The Haunted Mansion's canceled Museum of the Weird. On the other side of the office is a poster for It's A Small World's premiere at the 1964 New York World's Fair.
  • Freudian Excuse: The flashbacks suggest that Mrs Travers' crabby, fastidious personality is a result of being traumatized by her father's alcoholism and early death, plus her having taken as a role model the no-nonsense aunt, who created order and stability.
  • Fun Personified: Tom Hanks' performance as Walt Disney is largely played as this, though there is a sense of his more ruthless businessman side as well.
  • Grey and Gray Morality: While both Mrs. Travers and Walt Disney are depicted in a sympathetic light, both of them have many, many flaws, ranging from the former's discourteous behavior to the latter's explicit duplicitousness.
  • I'm Going to Disney World: In an amusing subversion, Mrs. Travers's reaction to being invited to tour the Magic Kingdom with Disney himself amounts to "This Is Gonna Suck."
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: After Walt Disney shows up on Mrs. Travers's London doorstep, she adds whiskey to her tea instead of sugar. Walt happily does the same, though he may be mirroring her to gain her trust.
  • Insistent Terminology: It's "Mrs. Travers", not Pamela or Pam.
    • Or "Missus", for Ralph. He eventually gets it.
    • And in Mary Poppins' case, it's never just Mary.
    • The Disney Studios also insist that everyone be referred to on a first name basis, which obviously conflicts with the previous two.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Mrs. Travers. Walt has his moments, too.
  • Logo Joke: The classic blue-and-white Disney Vanity Plate that was first introduced in 1985 is used at the beginning of the film, with "Walt Disney Presents" written in a retro font.
  • Los Angeles: Of which Mrs. Travers is not a fan, "It smells like chlorine... and sweat".
  • Man Child: After painting Walt as one throughout the entire movie and disdaining the toys and merchandise his employees have presented her and that he has in his office, Travers goes onto the lawn after a breakdown in the rehearsal room and starts to build a house of twigs and leaves like she did as a child. She even pulls Ralph into it.
    • Travers Goff is a much darker example to the point of deconstruction. His boyish demeanor endears him to his children but doesn't serve him well in the professional arena, which drives him toward alcoholism.
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: The non-Flashback storyline is essentially a Gender Flipped version of this, with Travers as the stuffed-shirt and the Disney team (most notably the Sherman brothers, whose talents convince her to let the movie be a musical, and Ralph, "the only American she's ever liked," but even Walt himself by the end) as the fun-loving people who defrost her.
  • Missing Trailer Scene: The trailer included a clip of Walt asking Mrs. Travers, "Mary Poppins was a real person?", falsely suggesting that she shared her recollections of her aunt with him.
  • Mood Whiplash/Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: This is caused by Travers' reaction to the penguins being cartoons, which is what causes her to want nothing more to do with the production and to move back to London.
  • Ms. Fanservice: In a mild example, Walt's secretary Dolly gives the audience a nice view of her ample cleavage in one scene.
  • No Smoking: While Disney was very lenient on showing Walt in a non-biased light, they were insistent that Walt would not be shown smoking on screen. The movie itself lampshades this in a scene where Travers storms into Walt's office and he's just putting out a cigarette, saying "Don't want anyone to see me smoke, wouldn't want to encourage bad behavior". In real life, Walt Disney did try to avoid smoking in public for that very reason.
  • Not So Different: Mrs. Travers and Bob Sherman both have very little tolerance for each other's brand of silliness and she kicks him out of the rehearsal room at one point after he calls her on her nagging (in Bob's defense, getting shot will do that to you).
    • Disney talks to Richard Sherman about how he understands how a creator can be very protective of their creation, and so is willing to put up with Travers's eccentricities.
    Walt Disney: "I've fought this battle from her side. Pat Powers, he wanted the mouse and I didn't have a bean back then. He was this big terrifying New York producer and I was just a kid from Missouri with a sketch of Mickey, but it would've killed me to give him up. Honest to God, killed me. That mouse, he's family."
  • OOC Is Serious Business: When the baby starts crying and her mother does not tend to her, it's a signal to young Pamela that something is wrong with her mother.
  • Oh Crap!: A minor one from the Sherman Brothers. When Travers complains about the word "responstable" and wishes them to unmake it, they covertly push the sheet music of "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" under their current work.
    • Another much bigger one when it was accidentally revealed to Mrs. Travers by one of the brothers that the dancing penguins would be animated — after they promised there would not be any animation of any sort in the film.
    • Walt gets one when he sees that Mrs. Travers has shown up for the Los Angeles premiere, and he has to put on a teeth-clenched grin after seeing her in his office unannounced.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Hanks does well with Disney's Missouri accent, but now and then he slips into Hanks.
  • Only in It for the Money: Why Mrs. Travers finally agrees to meet Walt to work on the film. Her book had stopped selling and she was broke. Her agent uses this to convince her to go. She still goes with no intention of signing the rights over.
  • The Ophelia: Travers' mother turns into this, getting mentally confused, walking dreamily out into the night in her long white nightgown and trying to drown herself.
  • Revenge SVP: Walt purposely didn't invite Travers to the premiere in order to 'protect the picture' and Travers initially had no intention of going until her agent talked her into it. She then invited herself, showing up out of the blue in Walt's office, much to his shock.
  • Sir Not-Appearing-in-This-Trailer: Colin Farrell, despite playing a large role (however, the trailer begins with his voiceover). Very little of Mrs. Travers' childhood is seen in the trailers as well.
  • Shout-Out: Tons, to Mary Poppins as well as the entire library.
    • The key relatives in Ginty's life obviously inspire the characters in her books and the film (her aunt is Mary Poppins, her parents are the Banks, Mr. Travers' employer is a kinder version of Mr. Dawes, etc.)
    • Ginty's horse is named Uncle Albert.
    • One of the maids that the Goffs leave behind is called Katie Nana.
    • The Goffs march to the train station like how Mary Poppins, Bert, and the children do through the London rooftops.
    • The film hides but acknowledges that Walt was a chain smoker, and he can be heard coughing prior to his entrance. He also clears his throat, indicating he is approaching, something which the real Walt Disney did.
    • Robert Sherman walks with a limp and Richard explains to Travers that he was shot. This refers to Robert's military service in World War II where he was shot in the leg.
    • When Travers first meets Don DaGradi and the Shermans, they do so in front of a soundstage where Babes In Toyland is in the middle of filming.
    • When Travers dictates how Walt must prepare tea - "And a spoonful of sugar."
    • The names suggested for Mrs. Banks are the ones mentioned by Bert and the penguins in "Jolly Holiday".
    • Ginty imagining herself as a hen laying eggs parallels the beginning of the "Bad Wednesday" chapter of Mary Poppins Comes Back, complete with an unpleasant interruption.
    • Ralph's daughter is called Jane.
    • In several scenes, Walt wears a tie that has the initials "STR" - a nod to Smoky Tree Ranch, a resort area in Palm Springs where he owned a house.
    • Walt and Richard's discussion regarding Mickey Mouse being family refers to Pat Powers, a film businessman who distributed the early Mickey shorts. They parted ways in 1930 over money issues, and Powers responded by hiring away Ub Iwerks from Disney.
    • Walt and Ralph both separately ask Travers about her family and she dances around the subject. This hints at the real Travers' bumpy relationship with her adopted son and his twin brother.
    • Walt asks Tommie to rearrange a meeting with "G.E." - a nod to General Electric, who Disney would create a joint exhibition with for the 1964 World's Fair - The Carousel of Progress.
    • A map of Florida stands in Walt's office following the time skip, foreshadowing Walt Disney World's construction.
    • Concept art and adverts are seen of the 1964 World's Fair attractions in Walt's office.
  • Shown Their Work: In the film, Travers insists that all of their conversations are to be recorded, so that Disney's staff cannot go back on what they have agreed upon. During the credits, one of the actual reel-to-reel tapes is heard.
  • So My Kids Can Watch: In-Universe. Disney pursued the rights to the Mary Poppins story for twenty years because he promised his daughters he would make it into a movie.
  • Supporting Protagonist: Discussed. This is what the title refers to, as Travers makes it clear that Poppins is not there to save the children. Walt later puts two and two together that Mr. Banks is the one who is being saved. Thus the story is altered to have some of the most moving moments of the film involving Mr. Banks.
  • Sympathetic P.O.V.: When watching the film, one has to consider that Robert Sherman in Real Life provided some of the context for the film to the screenwriter Kelly Marcel, and he didn't get along well with Ms. Travers while writing the music for Mary Poppins. His brother Richard later lent support to the producers after reading the script in 2010. P.L. Travers and Walt Disney had already passed on by the time the script was written, so they could not contribute their perspective.
  • Those Two Guys: Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak as Richard and Robert Sherman, the composers of the film's score. The actors actually trained alongside Richard Sherman so they could mimic their piano and singing perfectly.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: How Mrs. Travers sees Walt Disney: that he wants Mary Poppins as "another brick in [his] kingdom". Also, she's generally no fan of him.
  • Warts and All: The movie pulled no punches towards Disney's flaws note , such as him not inviting Travers to the premiere of the movie below. There was also a moment of him putting out a cigarette where he is a heavy smoker in real life.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The lives of Travers's mother and sisters are not accounted for at any point during the contemporary storyline (a little strange considering the emphasis on them in the flashbacks). Further irony abounds in the fact that it was her mother and not her father that P.L. Travers dedicated Mary Poppins to.
    • The film depicts Robert Sherman's limp and mentions it was because he was shot, but offers no further elaboration. Robert Sherman was actually wounded in combat during World War II while liberating the Dachau concentration camp. He walked with a limp for the rest of his life.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Probably the most Jerkass thing Disney does in the entire movie is intentionally not invite Travers to the premiere of the adaptation of her own damn book, fearing she would give the film bad publicity and telling his secretary, "We have to protect the picture." His secretary is clearly slackjawed at what a dick move this is. Travers' agent outright tells her this is an affront Mary Poppins wouldn't stand for, convincing Travers to crash the premiere.
    • Travers gets one when, after ejecting Bob Sherman from the reading, she notes he limps and asks why. On told it's because he was shot, she says "I'm not surprised." Given he was shot in the war after leading one of the first units liberating Dachau, and that she's saying this to Bob's brother, it's even more of a jerkass thing to say than it sounds.