Monday, December 30, 2013

Review: Saving Mr. Banks

Saving Mr. Banks
A feel-good movie about Walt Disney's (Tom Hanks) 20 year battle to adapt P.L. Travers' (Emma Thompson) Mary Poppins to film.

Flashing between the 20th (and final) year of Disney's attempt to get the rights to Mary Poppins and the childhood of Helen 'Ginty' Goff aka P.L. Travers, the movie has a bit of an identity crises as to whether or not it wants to be a full life-encompassing biopic or a a more focused narrative on the battle of wills between Disney and Travers.  It never really successfully juggles the two, although it does manage a rather powerful moment where P.L. Travers flashes back to a speech made by her banker father, Travers Goff (Colin Farrell) while the Sherman brothers (Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak) sing "Fidelity Fiduciary Bank."  Otherwise, the cutting between the two seems rather arbitrary, as if director John Lee Hancock was worried the audience might forget what they've seen if he waited to long to return.

The movie is still enjoyable, despite this, mostly because of the performances given throughout.  Emma Thompson, especially, gives a spirited turn as the sour P.L. Travers.  Many of her line deliveries are incredibly cutting, yet you still laugh due to how well she times them.  Her scenes with the Sherman brothers and co-writer Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford) are amongst the films best, with her constantly dampening their collective enthusiasm while the struggle to work with her constant demands.  B.J. Novak, as Robert Sherman, shines the best of the three, with his constant wordless reactions to Travers being some of the strongest supporting work in the film entire.

Tom Hanks gives a much more human portrayal of Walt Disney than one would expect, given that Disney is the one that made this film.  A scene involving him giving out pre-signed autographs while walking the part with Travers is particularly surprising, given how tacky it makes Walt look.  The movie still pushes the 'magic of Disney' brand despite this, but it is still a more honest portrayal than I thought we would get.

Given how strong the 'Making of' sections of the movie are, it isn't the least bit surprising that many consider the 'Early Life' scenes to be amongst the weakest.  I would argue otherwise (I think Colin Farrell does a rather nice job of a man who hates his job and turns to alcohol while still loving and doting on his children), except that tonally they take you out of what is mostly a feel-good comedy and take you into a rather depressing look at childhood neglect.  The problem isn't how the scenes are played or written, it's that they are there at all.  They don't work, and the director and/or the screenwriters should have either cut them or reduced their length considerably (at just over 2 hours, the film could've been shorter without suffering).

Still, despite its many flaws, the movie is an enjoyable look at the making of Mary Poppins (and I think many would want to watch said movie after seeing this).  6.5 out of 10.

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