Saving Mr. Banks
- December 20, 2013
- John Lee Hancock
- Emma Thompson
- Tom Hanks
- Colin Farrell
- Paul Giamatti
- Bradley Whitford
- Annie Rose Buckley
- Ruth Wilson
- Jason Schwartzman
- B.J. Novak
- Kathy Baker
- Rachel Griffiths
Walt Disney understands. Reality can be fun. A little fantasy mixed in with the reality can be magical.
‘Saving Mr. Banks’ tells a story of Walt Disney’s quest to gain the rights to the novel ‘Mary Poppins’ from its author P.L. Travers. A wonderful examination into the world of film-making and Walt Disney in particular. Filled with some great performances and lots of emotion. It may not be perfect, but I think it easily would meet Mr. Disney’s high standards.
You wouldn’t know it from the marketing, but the REAL heart of this film is not the relationship between P.L. Travers and Walt Disney, engaging as that relationship is. It is the story of Travers as a young girl (called Ginty) and her bond with her whimsical and troubled father. We get small pieces of this childhood story peppered throughout, helping us uncover the mystery that is “Mrs. Travers” and give some of the origins for “Mary Poppins”.
These two distinct (and often overlapping in theme) stories add so much to what could’ve been a rather dry tale. As an adult, Travers is a bit TOO proper to be truly compelling. Showing us her “origin” personalizes this stand-off character much more vividly. A brilliant and creative choice–giving the entire film some Disney magic.
Tom Hanks portrays Walt Disney as exactly the person we need him to be. A smart, determined, charming, and vulnerable man who loves the adoration of his fans and completely believes in what his empire stands for–the beauty of child-like wonder and hope. Hanks has played roles like this before, so it’s not much surprise that he does a great job. We even get one of his trademark emotional “confessionals” near the end, as Disney relates his own childhood struggles in a last-ditch effort to convince Travers to sign over the rights–manipulative and perfect;)
Emma Thompson portrays Travers as perfectly precise. The credits of this film role over a taped (at Travers’ request all the script rehearsals were taped) of the actual Mrs. Travers critiquing the script development, and Thompson sounds exactly like that. She also, and very subtly, shows off the vulnerability of this lonely author. Thompson makes sure we remain on her side, even when we really don’t like her very much. By the end of the film, in part from the flashback story and in part from Thompson’s sympathetic portrayal, we get a real appreciation for this character and even start to like her a little bit.
But the real stand-out of this film is Colin Farrell. His small role as Helen Goff’s father (P.L. Travers is a pseudonym). He is perfect as this wonderful, whimsical, alcoholic, and hopelessly irresponsible man. Completely likable and completely tragic. Farrell once again shows us how exceptional he can be with the right material. His chemistry with the young Ginty/Travers (portrayed by Annie Rose Buckley) is priceless. I wanted more of their story, it has enough magic to encompass an entire film about just them.
The remaining cast is magnificent and very deep. Paul Giamatti wows us as Ralph, the perfect optimistic chauffeur to compliment the pessimistic Mrs. Travers. Bradley Whitford, B.J. Novak, and Jason Schwartzman all excel at playing the creative team/writers/composers behind ‘Mary Poppins’–they get some of the best of Traver’s abuse and have some very funny moments.
Ruth Wilson, Kathy Baker, and Rachel Griffiths all do well in their (small) supporting roles. Nice to see Wilson again after ‘The Lone Ranger’ and her role as the charming serial killer Alice Morgan in ‘Luther’.
Director John Lee Hancock fully immerses us in this film, both in 1961 Los Angeles and 1901 Australia. His direction is direct and non-flashy. And he gets the best out of this experienced cast. He also manipulates the hell out of us, pulling no punches in
ripping pulling at our heart-strings. Reminds me a lot of Robert Zemeckis.
Watching Disney and Travers playing tug-of-war is a thing of beauty. Thompson and Hanks seem eager to do this “dance”. It’s hard to convey suspense when you already know the outcome, but this film and its two stars give us a good show.
A stand-out musical score from Thomas Newman. Great period details–costumes, props, sets (the 60s era Disneyland is very well done), and digital effects that obviously complete the period illusions, but never distract.
Aside from some intentional (and necessary?) emotional manipulations and the perhaps overly conventional story of stubborn people butting heads until they inevitably come together, ‘Saving Mr. Banks’ is a wonderful film. Full of splendid acting, confident direction, awesome production values, and lots of humor and heart. Recommended.
Aspect Ratio: 2.35 : 1
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Length: 125 minutes