A determined writer, a timeless story, an unpleasant past, a spoon full of sugar and Walt Disney. Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks tell us the story of Disney acquiring the rights to Mary Poppins, and the hell that came with it. My review of Saving Mr. Banks after the jump.
P.L Travers (Emma Thompson), a stern yet passionate woman and the author of Mary Poppins and has been approached countless times over many years by Walt Disney to hand over the rights to her story, so they can adapt it into a film. The main problem for Travers, is that Disney and his crew want to make a family film that embraces joy and wonder, but she does not believe this to be the story she has written. Being in a desperate financial bind, Travers, despite all reluctance, finally agrees to meet with Disney and come to some sort of agreement regarding the adaptation of her beloved work. What eventuates is a writer, desperately holding on to the story she holds closest to her heart amongst a group of sweet, well-intentioned writers whom don’t necessarily see eye to eye on what Mary Poppins is entirely about or what she stands for. How did the Mary Poppins film we all know ever get made? What changed Travers and her insistent ideals regarding Hollywood and their adaptation of her morose tale? And just how charming and genuine is Walt Disney exactly?
When you have a story involving Mary Poppins and Walt Disney, which is helmed by the director of The Blind Side, you know very well this isn’t an art house picture and that almost every scene will be accompanied by a musical cue of some kind. The trick is then to see just how genuine the film really is. Do we believe all that takes place? Do we care about the characters? Are genuine, unique moments spent with said characters and just how much do they convince us that the story they’re telling us is of any importance? Hollywood is not always the disingenuous beast many claim it to be. Wonderful stories and even greater executions have come from Hollywood films. Saving Mr. Banks, I am so happy to say, is quite a fine example of such an anomaly. Like all that was listed above, we believe the characters, the story, we believe every sweet intention that goes behind every decision in the film. P.L Travers, is not a horrible person, the film goes out of its way to assure us of this, which might be the film’s greatest attribute.
Director John Lee Hancock and writers Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith emphasize the character of Travers above all else. It’s her story, it’s her predicament we’ve been introduced to, the perception created by those who meet her at Disney is a misunderstood one, she seems uptight, rude, unfriendly, but being introduced to her early on in the film, we know it’s merely a result of circumstance. Perceptions of America and its bombastic nature are challenged and ultimately disproven, a great, great quality the film obtains, very few adaptations of this story would think to include it. Essentially, the result is a sweet and concise film that achieves far more than many films of its ilk ever could.
Performances from Hanks and Thompson are more than convincing, they’re something else. Knowing what these actors are capable of, that’s indeed quite a compliment. The supporting cast however, also shine from Jason Schwartzman, BJ Novak, Bradley Whitford, Rachel Griffiths and especially Paul Giamatti, although a minor role, a pivotal one that’s restrained as well as sweet which Giamatti was almost born to play.
So where does the film falter? With many Hollywood produced stories, there’s always one aspect that never quite works, in this case, it involves flashbacks into Travers’ past. More cannot be revealed as it would indeed spoil the story, but to put it simply, it is an imperative aspect that needed to be included but not all of it is entirely convincing.
If this were a story about Disney told from his perspective, P.L Travers would be a villain who would hardly have a revelation by the film’s end but the inclusion of multiple perceptions and of Travers’ independence and heart makes Saving Mr. Banks all the more intelligent, endearing and genuine. Don’t let talk of Oscars fool you nor any trailer or pre conceived misconception, this is a sweet film that wants you to know its story and believe it all the same.
By Chris Elena
Director: John Lee Hancock
Writer(s): Kelly Marcel, Sue Smith
Starring: Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Annie Rose Buckley, Colin Farrell, Paul Giamatti
Runtime: 125 minutes
Release date(s): USA: December 20 2013; Australia: January 9 2014; New Zealand: February 6 2014