Australian Council on Children and the Media

Saving Mr Banks

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Short takes

Not recommended under 13, PG to 15 (Themes; Disturbing scenes)

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This topic contains:

  • overall comments and recommendations
  • details of classification and consumer advice lines for Saving Mr Banks
  • a review of Saving Mr Banks completed by the Australian Council on Children and the Media (ACCM) on 19 December 2013.

Overall comments and recommendations

Children under 13 Not recommended due to themes and disturbing scenes
Children aged 13 to15 Parental guidance recommended due to themes and disturbing scenes
Children 15 and over OK for this age group

About the movie

This section contains details about the movie, including its classification by the Australian Government Classification Board and the associated consumer advice lines.

Name of movie: Saving Mr Banks
Classification: PG
Consumer advice lines: Mild themes
Length 125 minutes

ACCM review

This review of the movie contains the following information:

A synopsis of the story

Saving Mr Banks begins in London in 1961 when the author of the Mary Poppins books, P. L. Travers (Emma Thompson) finds herself in a financial dilemma. Travers’ books are not selling like they used to, leaving her in need of cash. Travers has a way out - she can sell the film rights to her books to Walt Disney (Tom Hanks), who has approached Travers for the film rights every year for the last twenty years.  However, 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 screen rights, Disney agrees to allow Travers to have a say in how the film will be made and, while she is not yet willing to sign over the rights, Travers boards a plane headed to sunny Los Angeles to oversee the planning of the film Mary Poppins.

From this point on the film becomes a chronicle of the relationship between the introverted, and uncompromising P.L. Travers and the charismatic Walt Disney and  his team of creative film makers including screen writer Don Da Gradi (Bradley Whitford) and song writers Richard and Robert Sherman (Jason Schartzman and B. J. Novak).

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

Themesinfo

Children and adolescents may react adversely at different ages to themes of crime, suicide, drug and alcohol dependence, death, serious illness, family breakdown, death or separation from a parent, animal distress or cruelty to animals, children as victims, natural disasters and racism. Occasionally reviews may also signal themes that some parents may simply wish to know about.

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

Use of violenceinfo

Research shows that children are at risk of learning that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution when violence is glamourised, performed by an attractive hero, successful, has few real life consequences, is set in a comic context and / or is mostly perpetrated by male characters with female victims, or by one race against another.

Repeated exposure to violent content can reinforce the message that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution. Repeated exposure also increases the risks that children will become desensitised to the use of violence in real life or develop an exaggerated view about the prevalence and likelihood of violence in their own world.

The film contains a number of emotionally intense scenes relating to self-harm and accidental injury related to alcohol abuse, attempted suicide and child abuse. Examples include: 

  • A flashback scene depicts P.L. Travers as a small girl watching her father in his bank office shouting at an imagined foe and throwing papers around. She then 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 while unable to get up as a result of injuring his back in the fall.
  • In an emotionally distressing flashback scene, Travers’ mother tells her young daughter to take care of her sisters and that one day she will understand. Travers looks on as her mother attempts to commit suicide by walking into a river. She attempts to save her mother by running into the river and swimming out to her mother and telling her that it is time to go home. Her mother wakes from her stupor and cries in distress when realising what she had attempted.
  • Walt Disney tells P.L. Travers a story of his childhood.  Walt suffered abuse at the hands of his father, being forced to deliver papers in snow storms, resulting in the skin peeling from his face. Walt also describes his father standing over him with a strap in his hand. 

Material that may scare or disturb children

Under fiveinfo

Children under five are most likely to be frightened by scary visual images, such as monsters, physical transformations.

In addition to the above-mentioned violent scenes, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children under the age of five, including the following:

  • A couple of flashback scenes depict P.L. Travers’s father emotionally distraught, bursting into tears while in a drunken stupor - again his daughter watches.
  • P.L Travers’s father coughs up 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.                  

Aged five to eightinfo

Children aged five to eight will also be frightened by scary visual images and will also be disturbed by depictions of the death of a parent, a child abandoned or separated from parents, children or animals being hurt or threatened and / or natural disasters.

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

Aged eight to thirteeninfo

Children aged eight to thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic threats and dangers, violence or threat of violence and / or stories in which children are hurt or threatened.

Children in this age group may also likely be disturbed by the above-mentioned scenes.

Over thirteeninfo

Children over the age of thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic physical harm or threats, molestation or sexual assault and / or threats from aliens or the occult.

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

Product placement

None of concern

Sexual references

None of concern

Nudity and sexual activity

In a brief flashback scene we see a man hugging his wife and then bending her backwards in a theatrical manner kissing her passionately on the lips.

Use of substances

The film contains a number of scenes depicting use of substances, intoxicated behaviour and thematic material relating to alcoholism. Examples include:

  • Social drinking in bars
  • Several flashback scenes feature P.L. Travers’ father drinking and drunk. In one scene the young P.L Travers searches around the house for her father’s whisky bottle which has been hidden by the mother. 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”.
  • In one scene we see P.L. Travers unpacking her bag placing a large number of medicine bottles on a table. In another scene we see Travers going through her bottles of pills.
  • In a flashback scene we see a doctor attending P.L. Travers’s injured father in his bed. The father asks the doctor if he can have some more (unspecified) for the pain, to which the doctor responds “When will enough be enough Travers?”
  • In one scene P.L. Travers walks in on Walt Disney unannounced, catching him smoking a cigarette. Walt admits to not wanting people to see him smoking cigarettes, inferring 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 to which Walt responds “When in Rome” and she pours scotch into his cup.

Coarse language

There is some coarse language in this movie, including:

  • stupid; alley cat; for heaven’s sake; damn; to hell with it; god damn her

In a nutshell

Saving Mr Banks is a dramatised biography targeting an adult audience. The film is engrossing and emotionally intense with Emma Thompson providing 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 film’s realistic portrayal of the lives of Travers’ alcoholic father and deeply unhappy mother contains some disturbing scenes and thematic material that is unsuitable for children under 13.  

The main messages from this movie are:

  • 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 parents may wish to reinforce with their children include endurance through adversity.  

Parents may wish to discuss how events in our past may have a profound negative effect on our future which we may not be aware of, and how confronting the demons in our past may be necessary to enable a healthier future. 

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