SAVING MR. BANKS
By Gary Murray
Starring Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks and Colin Farrell
Written by Sue Smith and Kelly Marcel
Directed by John Lee Hancock
Running time 125 min
MPAA Rating PG-13
Selig Film Rating FULL PRICE
Walt Disney has gone from a simple man with a simple drawing to the sickly sweet adjective for all that is family entertainment. Good, bad or indifferent, the name Disney defines a certain type of world. They have gone from a simple film studio to a company with stores, amusement parks and Broadway plays. There are many branches to the Disney Empire.
In the newest film by John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side), the story of one these acquisitions is told. It is of the making of the Oscar winning film Mary Poppins and how the process came to the printed page and eventually onto the silver screen.
The movie Saving Mr. Banks is actually two films. One is the story of the sparring between Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) and P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) about the rights to making Mary Poppins into a major motion picture in 1961.
She is a writer in England who has fallen on a bit of hard times. Her books are not selling like they have been and the royalties are almost gone. For twenty years, she has been fighting off the advances of Walt to purchase the rights to the character. It seems that Walt made a promise many years ago to his daughters to make the movie. He is a man who does not go back on his word, especially to his kids.
On advice from her agent, Travers agrees to travel to Southern California, into the belly of the beast, to discuss the prospects of making her book into a film. She claims the right of first refusal, something she is not afraid to lay down. The film is a clash of the titans, strong will against stronger will.
The second story is of a young girl living in the Australian outback, growing up with an alcoholic father (Colin Farrell). This is a brutally harsh world of the frontier. This little girl loves her father but knows that all is not perfect in their world. As her eyes are opened to the realities of their situation, she tries to hide in the stories she creates. It is the weaker element of the film but it does explain her motivations later in life.
The details of making Mary Poppins are easily the most interesting elements of the screenplay. The butting of heads between the author and the screenwriters is as epic as it is commonplace in Hollywood. Film is a collaborative business and in Saving Mr. Banks, we get to see how the sausage is made.
B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman play the writing duo of the Sherman brothers, the men behind all of those wonderful songs. The two spend night after night trying to find that perfect melody. We easily believe that these two are siblings with talent that just flows from every pore.
There is also another winning performance by Paul Giamatti as Ralph, the driver of P.L. Travers. He is a man with a sparkle in his eye and sadness in his heart. It is a simple but effective role that reflects the more positive nature of the screenplay.
Emma Thompson deserves an Oscar nomination for her performance as P.L. Travers. She is witty, charming and totally out of her element in California. She cannot stand the brashness of California and the brashness of Californians. She despises Disneyland and all that it represents. Her problem is that she does not see past the commercialism to the joy that Disney brings to families. Her final understanding of what Walt is trying to accomplish shows how the magic of cinema can affect lives. It is one of the most touching and brilliant moments put on screen.
The biggest problem with Saving Mr. Banks is Tom Hanks as Walt Disney. This is an icon who was a part of everyone’s living room for decades. Tom comes across as someone trying to do a bad impersonation of the legend. Though, there is one moment, toward the end of the film where Walt Disney talks of growing up. It is an honest instant and the beat that saves the role from caricature.
In my humble little opinion, Mary Poppins is the perfect Disney film. Yes, it does run on a bit too long but the songs are a part of American Culture. The songs of this movie musical are as important as any music and lyrics done by the best of Broadway or the Brill Building.
Some will find the entire exercise of Saving Mr. Banks as a shrew and cunning calculation of manipulation. But, all cinema and storytelling is a manipulation. Consider Saving Mr. Banks as the perfect companion to that masterpiece known as Mary Poppins and one of the best of 2013.