Saving Mr. Banks

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Release: Friday, December 20, 2013

[Theater]

What’s that old adage — the Poppins you do know is better than the Poppins you don’t?

Director John Lee Hancock (The Rookie) takes on the challenge of recreating the experiences shared by Walt Disney, his band of dedicated, enthusiastic studio hands and P.L. Travers, the author who dreamt up the timeless and near-mythical Mary Poppins, during the time in which she and Disney were in talks of adapting her beloved children’s book into a motion picture. As he was backed by Disney studios, Hancock’s final product, despite it featuring award-worthy performances, can’t be described as an achievement so much as it may be considered a tidy, predictable Disney package.

At least in this case, though, the playing-it-safe strategy doesn’t completely devalue the price of your ticket. There is an infectious spirit that is inescapable — a quality that permeates everything from the lead performances to the set design to the editing — even if it’s one that comes off as more than a little self-congratulatory. Ignoring this, however, Saving Mr. Banks is a difficult film to dislike.

The charm is no secret. The A-list cast, led by Emma Thompson, makes this production pop. Her portrayal of the prickly author P.L. Travers may not be the definition of charming, but it is Thompson’s character’s perspective with which we are forced to try and identify. Contrast her with the eternally upbeat Walt Disney (Tom Hanks). His demeanor is a night and day difference from Travers’ and the pair are eminently watchable because of the rapport (or lack thereof). Toss in an enjoyable turn from Paul Giamatti as Travers’ taxi driver Ralph, and an amusing recreation of the musically-inclined Sherman brothers (Jason Schwartzman as Richard and B.J. Novak as Robert) and the film suddenly has the gravitas that Mrs. Travers feared would be missing from this script she’s having to approve.

As if the two lead roles don’t provide enough substance, Saving Mr. Banks feels compelled to shower the viewer with scenes that are intended to gain sympathy — because, let’s face it, sympathy is not exactly the first emotion felt whenever the author is present.

The present-day development of the film is juxtaposed against Travers’ childhood. Both timelines occupy roughly the same amount of screen time, and while the constant jumping back and forth starts to become nauseating after awhile, the plot device is mostly successful in stirring up manipulating the emotions. Saving Mr. Banks starts off in the past before fast-forwarding to Travers’ modern-day life in England, where she has more or less given up on writing, is reluctant (to say the least) to have this Walt Disney fellow seize control of her life’s work, and is going bankrupt. Seeing as though the third condition is the most pressing of all her current issues, the two weeks she’d be required to spend in Los Angeles meeting Disney and discussing film rights is an opportunity she can ill afford to miss out on.

Of course, the moment she arrives on the scene she takes great pains to make life as difficult as possible for everyone around her. Criticizing everything from the way the American air smells like chlorine, to the fact that the Shermans are inventing words to insert into the film, to the way Disney addresses people on a first-name basis, the (formerly) esteemed author quickly loses what little interest she had to begin with in this project. The rest, as they say, is history misery.

Though Saving Mr. Banks‘ narrative structure becomes repetitive after the one hundredth flashback, Hancock has done a great job of staying consistent with the Disney image. (Did he really have any choice, though?) Predictability is not only what sustains the story, but it’s a fact of life for the actual studio, too. Everyone already knows how musical Mary Poppins is going to end up becoming (thus Travers’ resistance against that concept being a fruitless effort); everyone is already aware of the film’s place in the canon of classic films (thus her concerns are also, ultimately pointless). What we didn’t realize or perhaps appreciate sufficiently beforehand was just how unlikely it was for the production to come into fruition. Thompson’s codger of a woman helps ensure that it took more than just a spoonful of sugar to make that medicine go down.

As difficult as it is to enjoy and embrace by the masses who have no doubt flocked to see this thing in the recent month, Thompson’s performance should be noted as the film’s saving grace. If it weren’t for her grouchiness, Hancock would undoubtedly have drowned the audience in his serendipitous charm. Thanks to great acting from two reliable leads, Saving Mr. Banks just manages to save itself from death-by-Disneyfication.

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3-0Recommendation: Hancock takes great pains to ensure his representation of the studio is as comforting as possible. Even despite the quarrelsome author, the movie still nearly overdoses on sweetness. The saccharine tone is just something viewers who aren’t completely wooed by Disney’s magic are going to have to get over. As another idea, avoid seeing this film if you have hesitations at all about it. This is one of those filmgoing experiences that if you hold any before going in, you’ll end up coming out of it with a big “I told myself so” written across your own forehead. This doesn’t dismiss this as a bad film, just one that’s far too easy to predict.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 120 mins.

Quoted: “Disappointments are to the soul what a thunderstorm is to the sky.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

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25 thoughts on “Saving Mr. Banks

    • To be honest Alex it took me awhile to get to it too, and it was ready, waiting for me to knock it down a notch. I stalled because I’m not the biggest fan of these kinds of movies and in the end I was right about my instincts, but i managed to enjoy myself still.

    • It should satisfy that Disney sweet tooth then, for sure. 🙂

      Thanks for stopping by againnn Mutant. Sorry it’s taken me awhile to get back to you. Wish my comment feedback thing would show me more than the most recent 15 comments. . .or whatever it is.

  1. This is a film that I have been unsure of whether I want to watch or not. On the plus side, it does feature Tom Hanks, but it just does not appear that interesting, and the fact that it is predictable may bore me. Well written review!

    • Thanks! It’s predictable only in the sense that if you think of everything that Disney stands for and represents, that’s present here through-and-through. It’s not necessarily a ‘bad’ thing but I grew tired of it pretty quickly. There are terrific performances to behold, though, so you kind of have to pick your battles with Saving Mr. Banks.

      THanks for stopping in

      • Hmm, maybe I’ll give it a try at some points, just for the sake of Hanks. After Captain Phillips, he got me re-interested in watching his films.

        No problem! You have a nice set up!

    • I was wary of the hook, but yeah i fell in love with the ending quite a bit. it was very nice to see DIsney eventually warm her cold heart. Thanks as always for reading my friend.

  2. “death-by-Disneyfication” – this… another thing you should coin! 😛

    Excellent review. Definitely not a film I am interested in seeing. I will be very unpopular here but NOT a Disney fan too much.

  3. Fantastic review. This was a film that I kept pushing further and further back. Now I’ve missed it at the theaters. But I definitely plan on catching up with it once it hits DVD.

    • It’s just alright, that’s all I’ll say about it. It could have been way better than this sentimentalized claptrap

  4. I saw this back in early November before anything was known about it. I just assumed the author of Marry Poppins was happy with Disney’s adaptation since we know it as the hugely popular hit today. Also, I would’ve assumed P.L. Travers would be an overly sweet woman given her famous creation. Who knew her home life was so dark and difficult? Alcoholic father? I surely didn’t. This surprised me in a good way.

    • That’s always good news! It wasn’t so much all of the reviews and press I had discovered before going into this that allowed me to not be ‘surprised’ by it, so much as I think this is a huge self-fulfilling prophecy. I was reluctant to go to this film in the first place.

  5. Good review. Definitely Disneyfied. Definitely manipulative. But also charming enough not to be a total failure, even if it is almost as far from historically accurate as one can get.

  6. Good review Tom. It definitely flirts with the idea of being terribly sappy and manipulative, but somehow, doesn’t cross that line. Instead, it sticks to the story, the characters and exactly what it means to be “an artist”.

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