I know it’s a strange place to start, but let’s begin with some conceptual physics.
Imagine that time runs concurrently between the past, the present and the future. That everything is happening all at once, all the time.
I know, it’s a ridiculous idea.
But that doesn’t stop ‘Saving Mr. Banks’ from adhering to it.
In fact, the film does it rather well. We start in the narrative past – Australia, early 20th century – with the story of a family moving from the city to a small house in the country. Then onto the narrative present – London, and then Los Angeles, in the 60s – where ‘Mrs Pompous’ herself, P.L. Travers, is in the middle of contractual agreements with regards to her set of novels about a magical nanny, known as Mary Poppins. And finally, totally away from the film, we have the narrative future – which happens to be right now – in a world where Mary Poppins remains a childhood staple even fifty years on.
However, these all soon become intertwined to create something timeless; where the past references the present, where the future effects the past and so on and so forth.
It must be said, though, that all three timeframes have their own individual issues; the Australian scenes become somewhat overwrought, the American scenes suffer a minor lull towards the middle with the plot slowing down slightly, and the ‘future’ is most rewarding if you know Mary Poppins like the back of your hand. There is also the issue of having moments of sentimentality that fall dangerously close to being saccharine, however the film has enough bite to offset these with some pretty harsh truths about the complex nature of family life. It’s at these moments, actually, that the film really stands out for being too emotionally-driven for a younger audience. Contrary to its family-friendly PG rating, it is the more mature viewers that will get the most from it.
But, aside from all that, it’s about time I mentioned the supremely wonderful ensemble cast. Though it’s Emma Thompson (Travers) and Tom Hanks (Disney) whose names are plastered over all the posters – unsurprisingly, of course, as they are both brilliant – Bradley Whitford, Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak bring real comedy and charm to the Disney writers & musicians and Paul Giamatti is excellent as Travers’ driver. Then there’s Colin Farrell, as Travers’ father, who plays a deeply challenging role with aplomb . . . until the script kind of falls apart for him.
Despite its flaws, ‘Saving Mr. Banks’ stands as a joyful celebration of youth and imagination and provides a warm smile to those willing to give it a chance.