Saving Mr. Banks (Flack’s Review)

Posted on | December 30, 2013 | 2 Comments

P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) and Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) in Saving Mr. Banks (2013)

Saving Mr. Banks 3 1/2 Stars

Nearly 50 years ago, Mary Poppins premiered. Instantly iconic, the Disney favorite featured hummable tunes and fused live-action and animation to groundbreaking effect. It was a blockbuster hit and continues to be a timeless classic.  But did you know the film nearly didn’t get made?

P.L. Travers (Emma Thomspon) attempts to collaborate with others on Mary Poppins in Saving Mr. Banks (2013) Saving Mr. Banks tells that story, and the difficult behind-the-scenes process that goes with it. Emma Thompson stars as P.L. Travers, author of the Mary Poppins book series. After arguing with her agent, she finally decides to give in to Walt Disney (Tom Hanks), who has been begging to adapt her books into a film for 20 years. Hoping to solve her money woes with the project, however, she’s anything but easy to work with. The “collaboration” turns out to be tricker than Disney could’ve imagined, when Travers proves to be a tough teammate when working with screenwriter Don DaGradi and brother songwriters Robert and Richard Sherman. Throughout the arduous process, Travers reflects on her difficult upbringing (the inspiration for Mary Poppins).

A flashback featuring a young P.L. Travers (Annie Rose Buckley) and her father (Colin Farrell) in Saving Mr. Banks (2013) Considering the premise, there’s a lot of potential here. Sadly, director John Lee Hancock (known for sappy Oscar-bait like The Blind Side) isn’t always sure how to balance the snappy one-liners, jingly musical numbers, and tragic flashbacks. In one scene, P.L. Travers takes a silly Mickey Mouse plush toy and places it on a chair, telling it to “Stay there until you learn the art of subtlety.” It wouldn’t have hurt if the the filmmakers had listened. Sometimes, the tearful moments work. Hancock is good at the saccharine scenes that appear once too often. A tear-jerking talk between Hanks and Thompson that appears late in the film is a particularly strong example of this. So while Hancock often tries to hard to win over the audience, sometimes the results are sometimes magic.

Another problem: though the flashbacks (featuring Colin Farrell) to Travers’ childhood are emotionally riveting, they happen far too often, and sometimes distract from the plot, thanks to some sloppy editing.

Emma Thompson stars as P.L. Travers in Saving Mr. Banks (2013)Still, the movie is immensely likable and eminently watchable, thanks mostly to the charm of the cast. Unlike the trailers suggest, Emma Thompson is the sole star of the picture, and quite an entertaining one. As P.L. Travers, she’s simply hilarious. Thomspon pulls off this tricky role by making her character as despicable as she is sympathetic. Thompson masterfully makes us feel for sorry for her character, even as she’s mercilessly insulting fellow workers. The role, as the filmmakers are hoping, is worthy of an Oscar nomination. More importantly, she’s a total blast to watch.

Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) waves to onlookers at Disneyland in Saving Mr Banks (2013)Tom Hanks is fine as Disney, and it’s fun to watch him breeze through his effortless portrayal. Bradley Whitford, B.J. Novak, Jason Schwartznam, and, especially, Paul Giamatti also share some fine scenes with Emma Thomspon, even if Whitford and Novak don’t get much to do.

Saving Mr. Banks also has a polished, professional look and feel, as well as some nice cinematography by John Schwartznam. The flashbacks might not always work with the rest of the story, but visually there’s a nice effect. 60’s California contrasts interestingly with 1906 Australia, as the glitzy, sunny city and somber rural landscapes mix.

Robert and Richard Sherman (B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartznam) are the songwriters behind Mary Poppins in Saving Mr. Banks (2013)By the time the film ends with the premiere of Mary Poppins (don’t forget to stay for a credits treat), Saving Mr. Banks is, ultimately, winning Hollywood entertainment. The movie is overlong and over-reliant on flashbacks but the cast is fantastic, especially Emma Thompson. In the end, what the film really needs is a little medicine to help the sugar go down.


2 Responses to “Saving Mr. Banks (Flack’s Review)”

  1. Papa
    December 31st, 2013 @ 10:20 am

    Great, well written review and I concur entirely.

  2. flickflack
    January 1st, 2014 @ 12:05 pm

    I’m glad you enjoyed the review.

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