SAVING MR. BANKS (John Lee Hancock, 2013)

saving mr banks

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.

6/10

About MoodyB

An extremely passionate and (semi) opened minded film reviewer, with a hint of snobbish.
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5 Responses to SAVING MR. BANKS (John Lee Hancock, 2013)

  1. jjames36 says:

    Agreed. With your commentary and your score.

    And you’re right Disney wasn’t the lovable uncle figure they portray. The hero-worship portrayal is one reason this often feels like a lengthy press release on the greatness of the studio that financed the film. The other reason? The happy ending that is total fiction.

    • MoodyB says:

      I have heard what happened when Traver’s saw the film at the premiere is a little different to the sugar coated slush we see here.

      I guess the actual story would not have made a particularly good, crowd-pleasing film, but I agree that it does feel like a 2hour press release as to why Disney, and Walt in particular, were so great.

      • jjames36 says:

        Yeah. Definitely different.

        In fact, Travers cried at the world premiere, but only because she was traumatized by how badly Disney had butchered her characters and her work. And also by how much he’d cheated her.

        And he did. He gave her script approval rights, just like this movie depicts, and did go through a lengthy process to get her to sign over rights to him (though there was no meeting in her London home).

        After he got her approval, Disney made the movie he always wanted to make. Hence, the music, the animated penguins, and so forth, you see in Mary Poppins. After making the movie, he showed it to Travers privately. She asked when they started editing, and he replied, more or less, ‘You had script approval rights. Not editing rights.’

        Which, honesty, I think makes for an even better story than the one Disney presents with Saving Mr. Banks. It’s a story about how differently two artists see the same material, and the lengths to which they’ll go to produce their labors of love. It’s a deeply human story, where no one is really a villain and no one is a hero.

      • MoodyB says:

        I agree, that would be a much better story if written well. It is just a shame they went for the crowd pleasing fictional slush approach instead. But that would mean showing Uncle Walt in a bad light, and also would have needed a different actor than cuddly all round good guy Tom Hanks. Maybe they will make that one day!

      • jjames36 says:

        Here’s to hoping.

        Though Hanks could have pulled it off. I’ve decided he can pull off any role. 🙂

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