Story

Saving Mr Banks begins in London in 1961. P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson), the author of the Mary Poppins books, is in a financial dilemma because her books aren’t selling like they used to. Travers has a way out – she can sell the movie rights to her books to Walt Disney (Tom Hanks). Disney has approached Travers for the movie rights every year for the last 20 years. But while she desperately needs the money, Travers detests the idea of letting Disney turn her beloved Mary Poppins into one of his silly cartoons full of musical numbers. To gain the rights, Disney agrees to allow Travers to have a say in how the movie will be made. While she isn’t yet willing to sign over the rights, Travers goes to Los Angeles to oversee the planning of the Mary Poppins movie.

The movie then chronicles the relationship between the introverted and uncompromising P.L. Travers and the charismatic Walt Disney. It also features Disney’s team of creative film-makers including screenwriter Don Da Gradi (Bradley Whitford) and songwriters Richard and Robert Sherman (Jason Schartzman and B.J. Novak).

Through the movie are a series of flashbacks that show P.L. Travers’s tragic childhood in an outback Australian country town in 1906. It was this experience that inspired her Mary Poppins books. In the flashbacks, we meet Travers’s loving father, Robert (Colin Farrell), a creative dreamer who escapes life’s responsibilities through alcohol abuse. We also meet Travers’s severely troubled mother, Margaret (Ruth Wilson), and the inspiration behind the Mary Poppins character, Travers’s Aunt Ellie (Rachel Griffiths).

Themes

Financial difficulties; alcohol abuse; death of a parent; suicide

Violence

Saving Mr Banks has several emotionally intense scenes relating to self-harm, accidental injury related to alcohol abuse, attempted suicide and child abuse. For example:

  • A flashback scene shows P.L. Travers as a small girl watching her father in his bank office shouting at an imaginary enemy and throwing papers around. She sees her father being reprimanded and sacked for his outburst.
  • Robert falls off a stage while giving a speech to a crowd of onlookers. He lies on the ground in a drunken stupor and can’t get up because he has hurt his back in the fall.
  • In an emotionally distressing flashback scene, Travers’s mother tells her young daughter to take care of her sisters and that one day she will understand. Travers looks on as her mother tries to commit suicide by walking into a river. She tries to save her mother by running into the river and swimming out to her mother, telling her that it is time to go home. Her mother cries in distress when she realises what has happened.
  • Walt Disney tells P.L. Travers a story of his childhood. Disney was abused by his father. He was forced to deliver papers in snow storms, which caused the skin to peel from his face. Walt also describes his father standing over him with a strap in his hand.

Content that may disturb children

Under 5

In addition to the violent scenes mentioned above, Saving Mr Banks has some scenes that could scare or disturb children under five years. For example:

  • A couple of flashback scenes show P.L. Travers’s father getting very upset and bursting into tears while in a drunken stupor. His daughter watches.
  • P.L. Travers’s father coughs blood into a handkerchief in several scenes.
  • A young P.L. Travers arrives home to discover her father dead in bed. Her mother is distraught and sitting on the floor. 

From 5-8

Children in this age group are also likely to be disturbed by the scenes mentioned above. 

From 8-13

Children in this age group might also be disturbed by the scenes mentioned above.

Over 13

Younger children in this age group might also be disturbed by the scenes mentioned above. 

Sexual references

None of concern 

Alcohol, drugs and other substances

Saving Mr Banks has several scenes showing use of substances and drunk behaviour, as well as themes related to alcoholism. For example:

  • Characters drinks socially in bars.
  • Several flashback scenes feature P.L. Travers’s father drinking and drunk. In one scene the young P.L. Travers searches around the house for her father’s whisky bottle, which her mother has hidden. She finds the bottle and takes it to her bedridden father, hiding it under her father’s bedcovers. Later, her mother confronts the young girl and says, ‘I know you gave it to him’.
  • P.L. Travers unpacks her bag and places several medicine bottles on a table. In another scene she goes through her bottles of pills.
  • In a flashback scene a doctor cares for P.L. Travers’s injured father in his bed. The father asks the doctor if he can have ‘some more’ for the pain. The doctor responds, ‘When will enough be enough, Travers?’
  • P.L. Travers walks in on Walt Disney unannounced, catching him smoking a cigarette. Walt admits to wanting people to not see him smoking cigarettes, implying that he doesn’t want to be a bad influence on children.
  • P.L. Travers pours scotch into her cup of tea and then asks Walt Disney if he would like some. Walt responds, ‘When in Rome’ and she pours scotch into his cup. 

Nudity and sexual activity

Saving Mr Banks shows some nudity and sexual activity. In a brief flashback scene a man hugs his wife and then bends her backwards in a theatrical way while kissing her passionately on the lips. 

Product placement

None of concern 

Coarse language

There is some coarse language in Saving Mr Banks

Ideas to discuss with your children

Saving Mr Banks is a dramatised biography targeting an adult audience. The movie is engrossing and emotionally intense. Emma Thompson gives a standout performance as a deeply unhappy woman who is severely haunted by her past. Tom Hanks also gives a good performance as the charismatic Walt Disney.

The movie’s realistic portrayal of the lives of Travers’s alcoholic father and deeply unhappy mother includes some disturbing scenes and thematic material that is unsuitable for children under 13 years.

These are the main messages from this movie:

  • We all have past ‘baggage’, but we mustn’t let the past dictate our future.
  • We need to learn forgiveness and to forgive ourselves.

Values in this movie that you could reinforce with your children include endurance through adversity.

You might also like to talk with your children about how events in our past might have a profound negative effect on our future, but we might not be aware of this. Confronting the demons in our past might be necessary for us to have a healthy present and future.