SAVING MR. BANKS
Review by Michael Jacobson
Stars: Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Paul Giamatti, Bradley Whitford, Jason
Schwartzman, B. J. Novak, Colin Farrell, Ruth Wilson, Annie Rose Buckley
Director: John Lee Hancock
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Studio: Walt Disney
Features: See Review
Length: 125 Minutes
Release Date: March 18, 2014
“Don’t you ever stop dreaming. You can be anyone you want to be.”
Movies made about the making of other movies can be hit or miss, but I dare say, there was never so enchanting a true story as the one behind the making of Mary Poppins. Fifty years later, it is still considered the singular masterpiece of Walt Disney…saying a lot, when you look at his track record of success…and yet it was a film that took 20 years of struggle to make.
The reason? The author of the Poppins books, P. L. Travers (Thompson). They were more than just children’s stories to her; they were personal in ways almost too deep to explain.
Saving Mr. Banks is the story of how two talented and imaginative figures came together at odds, but ended up producing magic despite the constant conflicts and threats of everything falling apart. Walt Disney (Hanks) loved the stories by Mrs. Travers (as she insisted on being addressed), and had tried for two decades to acquire the rights to make his movie.
As the film opens, we see Mrs. Travers on hard times. Her books, once popular, were no longer selling. The money was running out. She never cared for money, and considers selling Mary Poppins (the character) for cash to be blasphemy…but something must be done. On the advice of her agent, she agrees to leave England for two weeks to meet with Walt at the Disney Studios, as he tries to persuade her of his vision.
It is not a match made in heaven. Disney insists on calling Mrs. Travers by her first name, which she abhors. In return, she refuses to call Walt by HIS first name, which he likes. She considers her stories the opposite of what Disney does. She doesn’t want a musical. She doesn’t want animation. And she insists on creative involvement in every level, always threatening not to sign the release form to turn over the movie rights.
How in the world did Mary Poppins ever get made? That is the beauty of this film…it was only after it ended that I realized it wasn’t really about the making of that classic movie, but about these two characters and what shaped them. Mrs. Travers might seem like a bit of a caricature at first, but the movie is replete with flashbacks to her childhood, where her father (Farrell, playing nicely against type) was poor but tried to make every day seem magical. He worked as a bank manager, and you can see through these episodes how that job was taking the joy from his life.
It was a tragic story, in fact, that gave the young girl everything she would need to create her magical nanny. And, in one of the most beautiful scenes of the year, Walt confesses his own childhood sadness. Both had a kind of “Mr. Banks” for a father…and what finally broke down the barrier between two great artists was the agreement that Mary Poppins did not show up in the story to save the children…it was to save the father.
As I said, that is one of the year’s most beautiful scenes. But perhaps the year’s most joyous moment at the movies came when songwriters Robert and Richard Sherman (Novak and Schwartzman) play the song that redeems Mr. Banks at the end. As they sing “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” to Mrs. Travers, they notice her foot tapping. Soon she is singing along, and even waltzing with the scriptwriter. It is a moment of unbridled joy captured beautifully.
The cast is wonderful…Emma Thompson brings humanity to the withdrawn and stubborn Travers (her reactions while seeing the premiere are priceless), and Tom Hanks actually became the embodiment of Walt Disney in a completely perfect performance.
Mary Poppins was a magical movie, but Saving Mr. Banks is as well. This is one of the best films of the year.
There is great attention to detail in bringing the world of 1964 Los Angeles and the Disney Studios to life. The colors are sunny and brilliant throughout, with hardly any dark scenes. Details are crisp and clean all the way through…the movie is like a beautiful, sunny memory.
The audio delivers well…it’s mostly dialogue, but the musical score and the piano driven classics by the Sherman brothers add some nice punch here and there.
There’s not much to talk about here…there is a very short featurette on the Walt Disney Studios “From Poppins to the Present”, four deleted scenes, and a shot of the cast and crew singing “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” with the real Richard Sherman at the piano.
I truly loved this movie. I laughed, I smiled, I even cried here and there. Saving Mr. Banks is more than some making-of movie…it’s a film with tremendous heart and joy. Highly recommended.