Saving Mr. Banks
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Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson bring to life the untold true story about the origins of one of the most treasured Disney classics of all time. John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side) directs this acclaimed film that reveals the surprising backstory behind the making of Mary Poppins.
Determined to fulfill a promise to his daughters, Walt Disney (Hanks) tries for 20 years to obtain the rights to author P. L. Travers’ (Thompson) beloved book. Armed with his iconic creative vision, Walt pulls out all the stops, but the uncompromising Travers won’t budge. Only when he reaches into his own complicated childhood does Walt discover the truth about the ghosts that haunt Travers, and together, they set “Mary Poppins” free.
Saving Mr. Banks is a fascinating look at the circuitous "collaborative" process Walt Disney, his creative team, and author P.L. Travers engaged in in bringing the character Mary Poppins to life on the big screen in the early 1960s. This touching, funny film is really two stories nicely tied up in one appealing package. The first story is of P.L. Travers's childhood in Australia in the early 1900s. This story starts out idyllically enough, emphasizing her father's immense love for his children and his uncanny ability to make everything fun and exciting, but it's one that has a darker side that ends up shaping the adult that Travers eventually becomes. The other story is of the adult P.L. Travers. A proper Englishwoman completely set in her ways, she grudgingly embarks on a trip from England to Los Angeles to discuss the possibility of turning her highly successful book Mary Poppins into a Disney motion picture. Walt Disney has a vested personal interest in the project, but Travers and the Disney team clash on virtually every level and their interactions run the gamut from perplexing to infuriating and downright funny. The juxtaposition of the two stories is quite masterful, with the stories continually intertwining and each shedding light on the other to create a cohesive film that is highly engaging and emotionally poignant. The casting of Tom Hanks as Disney and Emma Thompson as Travers is inspired: they are absolutely perfect in their roles. Perhaps the most intriguing thing about this film is that Saving Mr. Banks creates a whole new perspective from which to view the beloved original Mary Poppins. (Ages 10 and older) --Tami Horiuchi
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Saving Mr. Banks is a dual narrative portrait of the author of Mary Poppins and the creative team at Walt Disney that worked to bring it to the big screen. In one thread (1961) we have the curmudgeonly author behaving like a stark raving... well, curmudgeon as she tries to exert control over the creative process. In the other thread (1906, Australia) we unwind the story of her grim childhood that makes her a curmudgeon in the first place.
This movie has a lot of things to say not the least of which is to cast an entirely different light that beloved American classic of childhood. Mary Poppins ain't quite what you think it's about as a kid (but then what good movie IS what you think it's about when you're a kid). It's also a powerful demonstration of how our childhood influences us as adults sometimes in ways that we don't quite grasp until we look back on them from a great distance.
It's also interesting to see behind the curtain of the creative process. Avoiding spoilers, the author's primary objection is that Mary Poppins and the Banks family have become, in truth, her family over the years and sharing that vision and letting someone else have a piece of them is frightfully difficult. It does make a person wonder if all authors have this same struggle when crossing mediums.
Lastly, I'm a sucker for sentiment but this movie had the audience blowing its nose and audibly sniffing for a good hour. It's an incredibly intimate portrait. However, the kids won't think much of it and the group in the theatre with me was 50+ for the most part. All that said, highly recommended for anyone with a sentimental streak. Best movie I've seen in a month or more.
Oh, and the patient who sit through the credits will be treated to some photos from the movie's production and a section of the recorded conversations between the author and the production cast.
PS: It is always my endeavor to provide helpful reviews. If you find my review helpful then I'm glad! If you do not, then please leave me a comment indicating what you want to know and I'll be sure to do better next time.
Directed by John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side, The Rookie) from a screenplay by Kelly Marcel (Terra Nova) and Sue Smith, (The Road from Coorain), Saving Mr. Banks is set in California in 1961 but flashes back to Australia in 1907 and Travers' early childhood.
Walt Disney (winningly played by Tom Hanks) has a problem. Many years ago, when his two daughters were quite young, he made a promise to them that he would make a movie of their favorite story-book character, Mary Poppins, the heroine of the series of popular books by English author P.L. Travers. His problem is that Travers (a bravura performance by Emma Thompson) doesn't want to sell him the screen rights to make the movie and has been refusing to do so for two decades. But Ms. Travers also has a problem - money. Her books aren't selling as well as they once did, and the only way out of her financial situation seems to be agreeing to meet with Disney about finally selling him the screen rights. This quickly becomes a clash between Disney's charming but determined irresistible force and Travers' seemingly immovable objections to everything about the project, which despite her needs she seems determined to prevent. It seems that the negotiations are doomed to fail, but then, as we have come expect from anything Disney "like a bolt out of the blue, fate steps in and sees you through". How that happens, and why, is what the movie is really about.
The performances are excellent. Tom Hanks' Disney is engaging, showing the man's charm and his frustrations but also his determination to realize his dream. It's interesting that in some ways Hanks may end up competing with himself at Oscar time for his performance in this year's Captain Phillips, where he also played a man caught up in a clash of wills, albeit a more desperate one. Emma Thompson (Sense and Sensibility, Howard's End) is a certainty for an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of a very complex Travers, showing how Mary Poppins was not merely a literary creation - it was her way of trying to reconcile her inner conflicts over her difficult childhood, in particular her relationship with her father, Travers Goff, the real-life basis for the Mr. Banks of the title. Colin Farrell gives a stand-out performance as Goff, one of the best of his career, showing the man's complex nature, from his all-too-obvious flaws to the part of him that still managed to endear himself in his daughter's memory. Paul Giamatti shows his nice side as Ralph, Traver's driver, who gives her a sympathetic ear to turn to in the midst of people she deems adversaries. One of the more moving scenes in the movie occurs when Giamatti's Ralph explains to Travers just why he's so seemingly focused on the weather and why every sunny day is a good day. It's rather startling actually to see Giamatti play nice after having just seen his decidedly nasty turn as a slave dealer in 12 Years a Slave. The Disney creative team was particularly well done. Bradley Whitford (The Good Guys, The West Wing) plays Don DaGradi, Disney's top screenwriter, and B.J. Novak (The Office, Inglourious Basterds) and Jason Schwartzman (Moonrise Kingdom, The Darjeeling Limited) are remarkably paired as the song-writing brothers Robert and Richard Sherman, all of whom are just as anxious as Disney to win Travers over. Their scenes give remarkable insight into the creative process involved not only in adapting a novel for film but in adapting to try and please and/or placate a difficult author at the same time.
Also worth noting is the musical score by Thomas Newman (Wall-E, Skyfall) which nicely adds to the emotions being displayed on the screen and evokes the varying time and place of the scenes, using wistful lilting melodies and occasional subdued overtones for Travers' childhood in rural Australia and more modern sounds with a slightly faster pace for 1960's California. It's something of a challenge to pull off without the shifts feeling jarring but Newman manages it quite well. And equally impressive is John Schwartzman's cinematography as it brings both settings to vivid life, seamlessly switching from one to the other as the story unfolds.
But as I indicated at the beginning, one should remember that this is a more than a little sanitized and sentimentalized version of not only the events that took place but of the people themselves, particularly Disney and Travers. For example, at no point in the film is Hanks' Disney ever seen smoking even though for most of his adult life Disney was a notorious chain-smoker, ultimately dying of lung cancer just two years after the Mary Poppins film was released). Neither is there any real hint of how ruthless and even cold Disney could be. The Disney you see here is the warm "Uncle Walt" version that he carefully crafted for himself, not the man who notoriously sacked child actor Bobby Driscoll after the release of Peter Pan or Tommy Kirk, star of many Disney films and the Mickey Mouse Club TV show, after he found out that Kirk was gay. Thompson's P.L. Travers also gets a scrubbing, making her an overly fussy and lonely but oh-so-proper Englishwoman, completely at odds with her rather Bohemian younger years and the multiple romantic relationships she had in her life with members of both sexes. And who in reality never married even though in the film she repeatedly insists on being addressed as "Mrs. Travers". Nor is there anything but the slightest hint of her adopted son, the story of which would have revealed her own rather cold and ruthless side. But again, this isn't a documentary - it's a story, and as such should be enjoyed for what it is. No more, no less.
One final note - make sure to stay through the end credits, where they not only show photos of all of the real people depicted in the film but also play one of the actual tape-recorded planning sessions between Travers and the Disney team. Those scenes - along with the ones of Travers' early childhood in Australia - were the most factually accurate parts of the movie.
Highly recommended as an entertaining version of an important episode of Disney movie history. The real-life version is out there for anyone who wants to look it up and it's quite interesting in its own right, but this version is the one you'll want to take your kids to see.
In "Saving Mr. Banks" Tom Hanks does an admirable job breathing life into the lines he was given. Mr. Hanks performance however lacks Walt Disney's often mercurial nature and his capricious changes in mood which kept Disney Company employees on edge. (Following the 1941 strike by animators and staff, Disney's relationship with his employees became adversarial and distant.) Hank's makeup may seem like a quibble, but seeing Tom Hanks with orange skin surrounded by people of normal coloring was quite a distraction. Emma Thompson did a wonderful job portraying P. L. Travers, the author of the "Mary Poppins" series of books. Her performance was so good, it will bring you to tears. It is a must see film about the making of the film "Mary Poppins". 3 stars
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