Saving Mr Banks
Thomas Newman, like many of the major film composers of this generation, has a recognisable sound. Whether it’s “The Shawshank Redemption”, “Wall.E”, “The Help” or “American Beauty” as soon as the warm strings kick in you know it is Newman. The best way to describe his style is somewhere between classical and traditional American Mid-West. His use of wistful strings and woodwind always brings something homely and safe to all of his scores. Therefore, the heartwarming and jaunty tale of how Mary Poppins came to be a Disney classic was always going to be handled with care and attention in his hands.
However, when tackling the subject of Disney and the musical film that is “Mary Poppins” as a composer, there is a stark challenge ahead. Divorce all trace of the songs, tunes and melodies that we all associate with such a popular film and you risk alienating many. Yet, to simply put a modern twist on these loved classics and you’d be lamented for just rehashing other people’s work. Thankfully Newman is a master of working within a story and so the result is enough loving nods and hints to the Disney heritage, some music to centre the score and film within the time period in which the story is set and of course Newman’s trademark warmth and heart.
The tone for the whole score is set by the work done in “Travers Goff”, which within its opening seconds gives us Newman’s trademark warm strings, almost rural and sombre, before the piece switches pace and brings in a light, pacey, merry motif which is both purposeful and wondrous. This motif is reprised again in “Beverley Hills Hotel” and once more on “Ginty My Love”. The piece ends with another trademark instrument of Newman’s a single flute, whose breathy tones calms and mellows the track to its close.
Perhaps the most notable instrument used throughout the score (apart from the expected orchestral string section) is the piano. Appearing firstly in combination with a flute on the playful “Walking Bus”, a track which guides the listener to an unexpected mournful end with heavy drawn out strings and the breathy flute, the piano takes up residence on the “Saving Mr Banks” score. Featured again on the magical “The Mouse”, the piano element of the score is best evidenced in “Celtic Soul” and “To My Mother” which provide perhaps the longest and weightiest pieces of the score which is mostly comprised with short movements. “Celtic Soul” uses a soft dreamy, almost tender piano which is underlain with soft strings to create a motif which appears again on “Westerly Weather” to great effect. Meanwhile the piano on “To My Mother” is loving and calm mirroring the parental nature of the title. Warm soothing strings flood the piece before an urgent bridge injects uncertainty before melting away to powerfully sombre strings.
The album is interspersed with clever extracts from the film, mainly showing off the Oscar tipped talents of Emma Thompson’s “P.L. Travers” as disagrees with various song offerings from Walt Disney’s creative team. It also features a brass filled soul number from Ray Charles and a Jazz take on “Heigh-ho” from “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves”. Both ground the score in the time period and the Disney family along with the opening number, a piano rendition of “Chim Chim Cher-ee” with Colin Farrell’s spoken lyrics to the Prologue version of the song. This is repeated cleverly on “Laying Eggs” which is a stunningly beautiful violin piece with just the tiniest hint of “Chim Chim Cher-ee” hidden amongst the notes.
Perhaps the most delightful element on the album is the two pieces about the lead characters, Tom Hanks’ “Mr. Disney” and Emma Thompson’s “Mrs P.L. Travers”. The former is full of purpose and pomp, it captures an almost Western General or Sheriff feeling, with a shock of a mouth organ and sums up the personality of Walt Disney as the eccentric visionary. In stark contrast, the second piece begins with a slightly stunted piano note and is ruled by a frumpy trumpet, creating a piece which is odd but bizarrely as eccentric as Disney himself, reflecting the woman who did not want her story to be tainted by the hands of Hollywood.
The score closes with “Saving Mr Banks” a culmination of warm soaring strings which are tender and full of Disney magic. There is a slight hint of mouth organ and accordion as the track concludes which adds a little human touch to this otherwise wondrous affair which is bound to leave you feeling positive and rosy, just like a certain Mr Banks…as after all, that was what “Mary Poppins” was about…