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Saving Mr. Banks (A Movie Review)

Saving Mr. Banks


Starring Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Colin Farrell, Annie Rose Buckley, Ruth Wilson, Paul Giamatti, Bradley Whitford, BJ Novak, Jason Schwartzman, Lily Bigham, Kathy Baker, Melanie Paxton, Andy McPhee and Rachel Griffiths.

Screenplay by Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith.

Directed by John Lee Hancock.

Distributed by Walt Disney Picture. 125 minutes. Rated PG-13.

It's not often when a studio creates a drama about the making of one of their classic films. However, it makes a certain amount of sense for the Walt Disney Company to recreate the genesis of one of their most classic films. And they can get one of the most beloved actors of his generation, Tom Hanks, to portray their beloved founder.

It's a brilliant piece of cross-promotion for Disney – who in the audience is going to see this movie that won't go out and buy the new 50th Anniversary release of Mary Poppins? They even rushed the anniversary edition release to match the release of Saving Mr. Banks, as Mary Poppins is actually only 49 years old. Not only that, they get to film much of the film on their famous lot in Burbank, as well as a bit in Disneyland. That’ll be a boost for tourism. How often do they have that kind of opportunity in a movie?

However, the nagging question remains: Is the making of Mary Poppins really dramatic enough to sustain a film?

The evidence from Saving Mr. Banks leads you to believe that the answer is: for the most part. I'm not sure that the filming itself was probably worthy of a film, however there is enough intriguing back story in author P.L. Travers' life to mostly warrant the big-screen treatment.

Beyond the obvious nostalgic value, Saving Mr. Banks is somewhat risky for Disney Pictures. Despite being about the making of one of the most beloved children's films in history, this new movie is a little darker and more adult than you would expect. Saving Mr. Banks takes a hard (if slightly stylized) look at alcoholism, and the human cost of growing up in the family of a drinker.

Saving Mr. Banks flips back and forth in time. Much of it is spent on the 20th attempt of Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) to get British children's author Travers (Emma Thompson) to sell him the rights to make a film of her popular book Mary Poppins. (Disney had promised his daughters as little girls he would make the book into a film.) The rest of the film looks back at the inspiration for the book: Travers as a young girl named Ginty (Annie Rose Buckley) who experiences hard times with her family, particularly her charming and whimsical alcoholic father (Colin Farrell) who died when she was still very young.

Despite Hanks' much-buzzed-about turn as Walt Disney, his is merely a supporting role. Emma Thompson does most of the heavy lifting. Her Travers is buttoned-up, humorless, opinionated, distrustful and a loner. She is almost out of money and completely blocked as a writer. The only things she still has, and she protects them with a ferocity of a jungle cat, are the bestselling book she had written years before, a nice if overstuffed home in London and the conflicted memory of her life with her dad.

While Travers' change of heart (and essential change of her life's outlook) comes a bit too abruptly to be believable as real life, it works okay here.

After all, Saving Mr. Banks spends at least half of its running time showing its classic filmmakers tweaking and reformatting Mary Poppins to make it a viable crowd pleaser. We have no real reason to believe that their modern counterparts didn't do the exact same thing with Saving Mr. Banks.

Still, if the story behind Mary Poppins does get a little Disney-ized and this movie is probably not completely necessary, you have to admit it does work as an entertaining slice of nostalgia. Saving Mr. Banks is probably a little too dark for very small kids, but anyone else who loved Mary Poppins will eat this up, by the spoonful.

Ken Sharp

Copyright ©2013 All rights reserved. Posted: October 25, 2013.


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