Saving Mr. Banks tells the behind-the-scenes story of the beloved children’s classic, Mary Poppins

December is a big month for movies. It’s when many of the year’s best film are released, just in time for the spring awards season. And with time off from school and work, and families gathering together for the holidays, it’s also a time when many people head to the movie theater together for some family fun.

Is Saving Mr. Banks OK for Kids?

Saving Mr. Banks falls into both of these December movie categories. It’s already receiving excellent reviews and appearing on Academy Award prediction lists, both for Best Picture and for actors Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks’ performances. It’s also one of the most heartwarming and family-friendly of this month’s most-anticipated movies.

With excellent performances and the untold backstory of a classic movie, it’s sure to please moviegoers young and old- with a caveat- it’s (obviously) best suited for those who know and love Disney’s 1964 classic Mary Poppins. But for those who love vintage Disney, and are looking for a new movie that the kids, parents, and even grandparents can enjoy together, Saving Mr. Banks is a good bet.

Movie Details:

Director: John Lee Hancock

Cast: Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks

Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements including some unsettling images

Runtime: 125 minutes

What’s it about?

When Walt Disney (Hanks) promised his two young daughters that he would make a film adaptation of their favorite book, he didn’t realize it would take twenty years to finally bring the story to the big screen.

Set in 1961, Saving Mr. Banks tells the (somewhat fictionalized) story behind the the making of Mary Poppins, as author P.L. Travers (Thompson) contends with Disney and insists on her vision for her book.

The film constantly shifts between 1961 Los Angeles and flashbacks to Travers’ difficult childhood in the 1905 Australian outback. In these scenes we meet her hardworking but troubled father (Colin Farrell), and see glimpses of the story that she would write years later.

In a particularly revealing scene, Walt Disney scoffs at her desire for a serious story, a story that is about a flying nanny who comes to save the children. Travers is horrified; you think Mary Poppins came to save the children? she asks. Granted, Travers spends much of the film horrified – by the uncouth Americans who call her by her first name, and pour the tea before adding milk. But it’s in this scene that we begin to understand what Mary Poppins was really about- a little girl desperate to save her own father.

What parents should know about Saving Mr. Banks:

Humor, drama, feel-good moments, and Hollywood history make Saving Mr. Banks enjoyable for viewers of all ages. Despite a PG-13 rating, it is likely appropriate for older kids/tweens and up. However, there are some emotional moments that younger kids may find sad or unsettling, including a death (some blood) and an attempted suicide. While emotional, neither of these scenes are violent or gratuitous.

Very young children are more likely to find the film boring, particularly if they aren’t familiar with Mary Poppins. Though the film and its performances are excellent, the story does rely on a familiarity with its subject.

But for fans of Disney and Mary Poppins, it’s a delight to see the behind-the-scenes story, and watch as the films’ talented Sherman Brothers (played by B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman) write and sing songs like Chim Chim Cher-ee and Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious that would become beloved by generations.

While the film is not entirely accurate – Travers didn’t have the change of heart depicted, and would declare that she hated the Mary Poppins film for the rest of her long life- it is still a fascinating new look at a well-known story.

  • Violent content: There is no violent content, although there is a depiction of illness and death, and an attempted suicide, which may be unsettling to young children.
  • Language: There is almost no inappropriate language- a d**n or two, at most.
  • Nudity/sexual content: None.
  • Drug and alcohol content: We see frequent alcohol use and a depiction of alcoholism throughout the movie, as we meet Travers’ father, whose drinking damaged his career, his health, and his family.

Saving Mr. Banks opens in limited theaters December 13, and nationwide December 20, 2013.

Read more movie reviews for parents, and if there’s a movie that you’d like to see reviewed, let us know in the comments!

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About The Author

Ashley MacQuarrie
Associate Editor
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Ashley MacQuarrie is Associate Editor of Learning Liftoff. She began writing professionally eight years ago and has covered education, technology, current events, pop culture and other topics. A former homeschooler, she studied English and Film & New Media, graduating with a bachelor's degree from San Diego State University. Ashley has classroom experience working with children who have autism and other special needs. She has also tutored students from kindergarten through college and taught English to teens and adults at a language school in London.