Starring: Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Colin Farrell
Genre: Drama/ Biography
World famous film producer Walt Disney (Hanks) has made a promise to his daughters: to turn their beloved book by the name of Mary Poppins into a film. The author P.L. Travers (Thompson) flat out refuses as she is not a fan of Disney films and fears what the studio would do to her beloved novel. However, after 20 years of Walt persistently trying to persuade her, and with income from her books drying out she reluctantly flies to Los Angeles to hear Walt Disney’s and songwriters the Sherman brothers (Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak) plans for the screen adaptation of her beloved novel. Naturally, there are a lot of disagreements and Walt and the Shermans are forced to pull out all the stops if they are to persuade Travers to hand over the rights.
I think it is pretty safe to say that most people have seen Mary Poppins, making it almost impossible for me to even include spoilers in this review. Not that it matters as right from the off it is always painfully obvious how everything is going to pan out with all the supposed ‘emotional’ developments of the plot signposted clearly before they happen. Saving Mr. Banks is pure soppy Oscar baiting, crowd-pleasing middle-of-the-road cinema at its finest. This is not necessarily a bad thing as it is extremely well made, very well acted and tremendously watchable, it is a fine film for Sunday afternoons if you want something very easy to watch that will satisfy but never totally grip the entire family. Though being Disney and a PG rating I would personally not say this is a children’s film, its friendly tone and textbook narrative aimed more at the so called ‘grey pound’ generation of cinema goers. As this age group’s share in cinema admissions seems to be ever increasing this is quite a shrewd and cynical move by those behind Saving Mr. Banks.
Though I am no expert, I do believe that Walt Disney was a shrewd and sometimes manipulative businessman and not quite the loveable and compassionate uncle-like figure we see here. However, as the man himself Tom Hanks is magnetic and obviously having a great time playing him. Likewise as the Sherman brothers Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak bring energetic turns that capture the incredible song writing talents of these two siblings as well as the frustration of the disagreements with Travers who did not want any music at all. Though he seems to be turning up in everything at the moment, Paul Giamatti brings genuine to heart to proceedings as Travers’ driver.
However, for me the real star of the show here is Emma Thompson; her exceptional performance elevates the average script to make the ultimately tragic character of Travers appear to have so much more depth. Travers pernickety and uptight ways make for a character that is both challenging to play and challenging for us to like in equal measure, but Thompson pulls it off and I expect her to get plenty of nomination during awards season. Hanks and Thompson share great screen chemistry, making the scenes between them all that more watchable than the script possibly deserves.
Not faring so well are the flashbacks of Travers’ childhood in Australia involving her tragic father (Farrell). Farrell is fine (though the accent is all over the place), but as they are shown intertwined with the main story they serve more as unwelcome distraction than emotional substance. Though they perhaps explain what Travers’ books are about, it is all delivered in a patronising, spoon-feeding manner that would have been avoided if this was a more intelligent script.
As the film reaches its inevitable conclusion no one is any doubt as to what is going to happen despite the usual clichéd ‘all is lost’ moments in the narrative, but it is all perfectly watchable thanks mainly to Hanks and Thompson. Mary Poppins is a universally loved film and though this film cynically takes advantage of our affectionate views of Mary Poppins, the conclusion is still very satisfying and a little moving.
Saving Mr. Banks is a well made film that is predictable and certainly focussing solely on being a crowd pleaser, however if you are willing to forgive the flaws and selective history then superb performances from Hanks and Thompson always keep things very watchable.