Friday, December 13, 2013

Review: Saving Mr. Banks

Release date: December 20, 2013
Running time: 125 minutes
Starring: Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Annie Rose Buckley, Paul Giamatti, Colin Farrell
Who to see it with: A Mary Poppins fan (so pretty much anyone)


Saving Mr. Banks has a very interesting premise, it sets out to tell the story of how Mary Poppins was made, from securing the rights to the original novel to some of the design and musical choices for the film itself. Although it doesn't sound very interesting, the story and the presentation are fascinating to see. Much of the film showcases the back and forth between Walt Disney, who promised his children to make their favorite book into a film, and P. L. Travers, who absolutely does not want to sell the rights to Mary Poppins. While telling this story, the film flashes back to Travers childhood to reveal aspects of Travers herself and some of the inspirations for her famous book. Although it could be jarring, it's done amazingly well, revealing a little bit of the story at a time that tends to parallel the events that are happening in the "present."  

The first thing you'll notice about the movie is that the acting is wonderful and all the characters are perfectly cast. Emma Thompson is practically dreadful as Ms. Travers; Tom Hanks absolutely transforms for this role and takes on a completely new persona for Walt Disney. Paul Giamatti is genuinely endearing as Travers's driver and Colin Farrell might be the most impressive of the bunch--I haven't seen him in a role where he can be so genuine, charming, and complicated at the same time. The writing is fun and the interactions between Disney and Travers seem genuine and horrible at the same time. But, the most important thing about this film is that the movie has plenty of cues to the original Mary Poppins. The musical cues, sayings from the film, and other reference instantly evoke a sense of nostalgia and brought a smile to my face. And when the music is not drawn from the original film, it does a great job of setting the mood and evoking the proper emotion from the viewer.

Very few movies come along that are practically perfect in every way. Saving Mr. Banks is a wonderful experience both for the nostalgia that it evokes as well as the amazing story it tells.  Although it takes some liberties with the story, it is still an interesting one to experience. 

Watch it.

PS - There is a stinger that occurs right after the credits start. Make sure to stay for it because it's well worth it!

I haven't seen Mary Poppins so I have no nostalgia for it, though it's been referenced enough that I am familiar with the character and a few of the songs. Nostalgia and familiarity will surely benefit your time with this heartwarming family film, so heartwarming that it occasionally seems a little too sweet. I agree that the actors are great, especially Emma Thompson. Ms. Travers is pretty cold and stubborn, but Thompson and the writing manage to make her concerns valid, her bristly nature funny and her pain sympathetic. Unfortunately, Ms. Travers is a character in a Disney film, and the plot goes through fairly predictable motions in its second half. One major moment wouldn't seem out of place in a Disneyland commercial, dramatically changing the mood in a way that seems to imply that the place is truly magical.

Still, I think it's worth seeing just because it's an entertaining tale of a stubborn writer repeatedly clashing with an overwhelmingly cheerful movie studio about an increasingly loose film adaptation. I could easily see someone adapting this story in a much more cynical way. Hanks's Disney is charming, perhaps too charming. A pivotal conservation near the end between he and Travers is designed for sentimentality, but if presented slightly differently would seem like an example of a clever executive slyly manipulating his desired source material's owner. I doubt the relationship between the real Ms. Travers and Disney ended in such a tidy manner. Despite the excess sentimentality and abrupt character changes, Ms. Travers is such a good character that she elevates what could have been just an overly predictable family. Watching others grapple with her chilly personality is always enjoyable. SMB will be popular with anyone wanting a more lighthearted, but not silly, alternative to more serious and edgy awards season movies like Mandela and The Wolf of Wall Street.

Rent it.

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