A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that while Saving Mr. Banks is about the making of a classic family movie, some of the topics -- alcoholism, suicide, and a difficult childhood -- might be tough for younger kids to handle. While there are plenty of lighthearted moments to entertain tween and teen viewers, the surprisingly sad moments can be a bit jarring -- including a very sick man on his deathbed and a woman attempting suicide in front of her daughter. Parents should consider whether kids are ready for these subjects -- or if they'd even enjoy a movie that bounces back and forth between silly and serious.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson), the notoriously picky author of Mary Poppins, is fiercely protective of her literary creation, and has little interest in letting Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) turn it into one of his cheerful family films, especially if there will be any frolicking or animated penguins. The film is interspersed with scenes from Travers' childhood in Australia, as her beloved father (Colin Farrell) gradually succumbs to alcoholism, an episode that still haunts her and has clearly influenced her writing. SAVING MR. BANKS charts the evolution of this father and daughter relationship, as Disney slowly wins her over and convinces Travers that her cherished character will be safe in his hands. Even with cartoon penguins.
Is it any good?
Saving Mr. Banks is lovely in many ways, including its lead actors, Thompson and Hanks, who are irresistibly winning. But it's a tale of two stories, both of which are indulged, making for a tonally uneven film. To start, the movie Mary Poppins is a fairy tale. The story behind the movie resembles a fairy tale of sorts here, too, as the prickly writer is shown gradually lowering her guard and letting the talented studio writers and Disney win her over for a happily ever after. But a happily ever after it apparently wasn't. The real Travers was famously displeased with the movie version of her book, and it appears the fight may have been more contentious than what we see. And the film ends swiftly in a somewhat saccharine moment, diminishing the potency of previous battles shown leading up to the standoff.
More problematic is how the film mixes scenes from Travers' Australian childhood that are melancholy, bordering on despairing, with comedic moments capturing the Travers-Disney tug-of-war. Had the filmmakers committed to one (the negotiations between Travers and Disney) or the other (Travers' hardscrabble past) more fully, it would've coalesced into a greater whole. A spoonful of sugar turned into a cupful here, undoing the good the medicine would have done.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Travers' character. Why is Travers so protective of Mary Poppins? How much of the story seems to be based on her own life? What do you think she learns from the process?
Do you think the movie is entirely factual? How can you find out what the truth is? Is there always one real truth or does it depend on perspective or opinion?
If you wrote a story that was going to be turned into a movie, what aspects would you be willing to change -- or not change?
Is this a movie for kids? Is there anything that kids can learn from this movie? Does anything touch on issues that kids aren't ready to handle?
- In theaters: December 13, 2013
- On DVD or streaming: March 18, 2014
- Cast: Emma Thompson, Paul Giamatti, Tom Hanks
- Director: John Lee Hancock
- Studio: Walt Disney Pictures
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Book Characters, History
- Run time: 125 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: thematic elements including some unsettling images
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.