Sunday, December 22

REVIEW: Saving Mr. Banks

Directed by John Lee Hancock
2013 Drama
2 hours 5 minutes
From Disney Studios

Emma Thompson
Tom Hanks
Colin Farrell
Paul Giamatti
Bradley Whitford
B. J. Novak
Jason Schwartzmann
Annie Rose Buckley
Ruth Wilson
Kathy Baker
Rachel Griffiths
Melanie Paxson

I had a few minutes to rush from seeing American Hustle to being in my seat for this one and maybe I was having a problem adjusting to the schlepping and these wildly divergent films.  For  the first 30 minutes, I wasn't all that sure that I was going to care for this one as much as I thought I would.  But then I settled down,  inhaled the Disney magic and found Saving Mr. Banks to be charming, utterly charming.
Of concern here is the 20-year tug-of-war between Walt Disney and P.L. Travers, the Australian author of the timeless classic, Mary Poppins.  You see, Walt's daughters not only read the book but cherished it and extracted a promise from their father that he would make a movie of it.  Uh-huh, well, easier said than done.  Travers always said no.  Not interested.  Walt never stopped trying.

As the film opens Travers is finding she's running low on funds, perhaps even losing her beloved home, now in England.  She oh so reluctantly gives in to Mickey's father and is now on her way to Hollywood -- make that Burbank -- and the Disney Studios where she will work hand-in-hand with others, including Disney's favorite songmakers, the Sherman brothers, to turn Mary Poppins into a film for the Disney daughters and the child in all of us.

Travers is not one to trifle with.  And there's no need to ask her how she is or how her day is going.  It is painfully if not frighteningly obvious by her face which would crack if she even attempted a whisper of a smile.  Knowing nothing about movie-making, she promptly states that there is to be no animation in it, no songs (damn those Sherman brothers sitting at the piano) and no Dick Van Dyke.  We know how that all worked out.

Everyone at the studio called the boss Walt.  No Mr. Disney for him... this was a family affair.  So he thought it would be fine to call her Pamela, which she said 10-20 times it was Mrs. Travers.  (I am not sure why the Mrs. as the bisexual writer was never married.)  She, in turn, called him Mr. Disney, despite his protestations. 

She could certainly use a spoonful of sugar.  There was no doubt that this was one exasperating woman and the writers decided that we needed to know why that was.  So a subplot was created showing Travers' life as a small girl living on an isolated ranch with her two sisters, a depresed, suicidal mother and an alcoholic dreamer of a father.  Throughout the film we go back and forth between the two stories.  Of course, none of the actors are in both parts.

I gotta say that for the longest time I didn't get why we did the childhood thing.  To me it was distracting from the main story, which I very much enjoyed and wanted to stay there.  (C'mon, you know I am mad for stories about Hollywood and certainly anything even remotely considered biographical.) It wasn't until I sat up, flicked the renegade popcorn off my personage, and finally connected to what they wanted me to know, why we were so engaged in the childhood.  It has everything to do with the title of the film (Mr. Banks is the father in Mary Poppins), which I confess I wondered about but also didn't connect to.  (Oh, I wish I could blame all this delirium on the hecticness of the Christmas season, but that wouldn't fool some of you.)

Still, when all is said and done, I stay with liking the portion of the film that dealt with Travers' relationship with Disney the best.  The other part did have Colin Farrell and that's never a bad thing.  My partner liked the Australian part the most.  So, there you are... both sides represented.

I will one day own this film and part of that is because of two yummy scenes at the end.  One is a heart-to-heart that Disney has with Travers and the other is watching Travers at the film's premier at Grauman's Chinese Theater.  I confess both scenes had me blubbering a bit and I suspect they will you, too.  (We'll just keep this between us.)

Julie Andrews with the real Walt & P.L. Travers

Director John Lee Hancock guided Sandra Bullock to an Oscar for The Blind Side and I suspect it could happen again with Emma Thompson who, as Travers, is nothing short of sensational.  What an actress!  What a role!  And the film is hers.  She is top-billed, as she should be, and delivers on looks, chutzpah, manner, language and the key to emotionally understanding the scrappy writer.

I do not want to slight Tom Hanks.  Actually I thought he was a perfect Walt Disney.  Of course I also saw him in Captain Phillips and found him immensely enjoyable in that as well and the role may get him an Oscar nomination.  So this is two-in-a-row in the favorable column for Hanks so I think I have to cut him some slack as an actor.

The remainder of the cast, whether those in the Australian segment or the songwriters, secretaries and chauffeur at the studio, all brought it home for me.

This was a fun romp.  I'm glad I didn't miss it.

Next posting:
The Directors

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