There is no question that Mary Poppins is a modern masterpiece, perfectly encapsulating the best of all that is Disney. Part of the film’s appeal is it’s infectious soundtrack. Haunting, whimsical, and always memorable, it is one of the great film scores of all time. So it is that I began listening to the soundtrack of Saving Mr. Banks with unrealistic expectations, expecting a film about the making of Mary Poppins to convey the artistry of the soundtrack that inspired it. Unfortunately, that doesn’t appear to have been composer Thomas Newman’s intent. This is a soundtrack of enjoyable moments, with a lot of forgettable filler providing what I’m sure is perfectly appropriate mood, but never standing on it’s own.
It’s difficult to convey the feeling of listening to this soundtrack as it is, for the most part, so generic. It’s a very laid back, simple score. There is a simplicity that is prevalent throughout, pushing things forward, but never drawing attention to itself. I have to give Newman credit for capturing the tone of an era, as the simplicity does lend itself to the feeling of the late 50s/early 60s.
While most of the tracks tend to blend together, there are a few standout moments. There are jazz interludes sprinkled throughout, with a highlight being a thoroughly entertaining rendition of Heigh-Ho, performed by the Dave Brubeck Quartet. It’s not long, but it’s an entertaining piece that captures the joy of the classic Snow White track in a new way. There are also a couple of tracks I really enjoyed that represent Walt Disney himself. One of these tracks is called “Mr. Disney,” and the other is “The Magic Kingdom.” These tracks are the closest the soundtrack gets to having a “hero theme,” creating appropriately upbeat, suitably enthusiastic moments for what I can only assume center around Walt himself.
Sprinkled throughout are VERY brief interludes from the film itself, featuring extremely short tastes of dialogue, and little snippets of the Sherman Brothers (as played by Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak) developing the classic tracks from Mary Poppins. There is also an interesting introduction to the soundtrack featuring dialogue from Colin Farrell as P.L. Travers mom, played over a lovely rendition of Chim Chim Cheree.
Overall, this isn’t really a soundtrack that you would listen to on it’s own. I’m sure within the context of the film, it’s perfect. It captures a tone, but is mostly redundant and devoid of any real themes. I enjoyed aspects, but found myself frequently bored. If you do choose to listen to the soundtrack independent of the film, just realize that this isn’t a new interpretation of Mary Poppins. The story of Saving Mr. Banks is it’s own thing, and this is a soundtrack designed for that purpose alone. Far from perfect, it’s practically average in every way.