Bonus Review: Saving Mr Banks

saving mr banksJust for fun I thought I would share my thoughts on a recent live action Disney film, Saving Mr Banks.  For some reason I waited to see the movie even though it stars my favorite living actress Emma Thompson and an actor I really like in Tom Hanks, and it is about the making of one of my favorite movies Mary Poppins.  I guess sometimes you don’t want the illusion to be spoiled by a behind the scenes look, so I waited until it came out on DVD and watched it.  I was blown away. It rapidly ascended the ranks to a top 10 favorite movie ever list.

Saving Mr Banks is directed by John Lee Hancock from a script by Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith that had been floating around Hollywood for a long time.    Tom Hanks plays Walt Disney and Emma Thompson is PL Travers, the author of Mary Poppins.  We also see Paul Giamatti in a wonderful, subtle performance as a the chauffeur Collin Farrel as Travers’ father, and Jason Schwartzman, Bradley Whitford and BJ Novak as the Sherman Brothers and team.  Everyone is great in this film.

The story centers around Travers, an insufferable curmudgeon,,  and Disney, the master of whimsey, as Travers is forced to relinquish the rights to her beloved Mary Poppins.  She hates the idea of everything Disney stands for.  He is childish is and stupid and he wants to turn her masterpiece into a joke.

They do not pull any punches with Travers.  She is a jerk to the 9th degree and normally this wouldn’t work so well but with Emma Thompson’s warmth and her back-story along the way I totally bought it.  I was actually glad they didn’t soften her edges but had the guts to make a lead character so unlikable.  It made her change and the ending so profound.

Hanks is great as Disney.  I have no idea if it captures the man but even little details like the fact he had a nervous twitch from constantly smoking is integrated into the performance.  He seems like someone who would be almost impossible to resist, which is a perfect contrast to Thompson’s Travers.

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So like I said Travers is incredibly resistant to the idea of her beloved Mary Poppins (never just Mary) dancing about in one of his cartoons. Why?  Why?  Well, we learn about her father who was a whimsical man, much like Disney.   I won’t give it all away but he disappoints Travers, wounds her and she is never the same.  In fact, she becomes an entirely new person, accent and all.  Collin Farrell is excellent in the flashback scenes as her father.

Colin-Ferrell-in-Saving-Mr.-Banks-2013An aunt comes into Travers life at a moment of crisis and she is inherently practical which is what she needed to get by.  So Travers became practical and created a character that could rescue people in the same way her aunt had rescued her.  That’s why it meant so much to her.

But it is not a morbid or solemn film, much of it is spent on the mechanics of working over the script with the producer and the Sherman Brothers.  Travers has opinions on everything from the house, to whether Mr Banks has a beard.  She is absolutely against using music or animation (we all know how she came out on that debate!).  She doesn’t like Dick van Dyke as a choice (hard to believe but true).  She even at one point criticizes one of the Sherman brothers and says he earned his limp in the war.

At least to me this banter and back and forth never got too heavy or drawn out because it was interrupted with the scenes from Travers life.  The pacing works perfectly. A lot of that also goes to Thomas Newman who wrote a fabulous score- one of the best I’ve heard in many years.

So great performances, beautiful music and cinematography, engaging premise- all part of why Saving Mr Banks is special but there was something else that made it a top 10 all time favorite.  At the end Tom Hanks flies to London and talks to PL about forgiveness and it deeply moved me.  It captures the profound idea that every person has a moment where childhood is over, and most of us spend the rest of our lives either resenting who gave us that moment or trying to recreate the innocence we lost.  In the case of PL Travers she rejected the whimsey of her father to deal with the pain, in Disney’s case he embraced it so they are the ultimate contrast.  I bawl whenever I see that scene.  It profoundly moved me.

I have my moment where childhood was done.  I wasn’t the most whimsical kid to start with, far from it.  But one day at the apex of being bullied I was thrown into the drinking fountain with a line of children and my dress was put over my head so everyone could see my underwear.  All of this within a teacher’s observation.  I remember looking at her and all the kids and realizing they weren’t going to help me.  I don’t resent those kids/teachers but I do wish I could have that moment back.  Maybe that’s why I like animation and children’s movies so much?  Characters like Ariel and Belle gave me confidence to stand up for myself and find my own version of happiness.

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I know Saving Mr Banks isn’t a perfect movie but that scene in London was perfect to me.  I also love the behind the scenes of how a movie is conceptualized and developed.  It’s interesting that we never see a set or backdrop or anything like that.  It is all at the script, storyboard stage.  I loved the actors who played the Sherman Brothers.  They are just trying to do their jobs and make their employer happy, and Travers is making it very tough on them.

saving_mr_16

I also loved Paul Giamatti as the chauffeur.  He is subtle and their friendship felt authentic.  I’m surprised a big name like Giamatti would take such a small part but I’m glad he did.

It is also true the film is fan fiction and PL Travers hated the movie and wouldn’t give any rights to anything after the experience.  She cries at the premiere and you feel for her.  For her work and all that it meant to her.  It is not a tidy explanation no matter how technically inaccurate it might be.

So, I loved Saving Mr Banks.  I loved performances, music, story, cinematography, and the message of forgiveness.  If you haven’t seen it I highly recommend you do!

Content Grade- A-      Overall Grade- A+

26 thoughts on “Bonus Review: Saving Mr Banks

  1. I think with this movie it depends on how you see it…it has nearly nothing to do with the truth (Disney was smart enough to avoid Travers, and the father element never was any part of her, frankly mediocre, books). But if you see it as a movie about how difficult it often is to join the vision of the writer with the vision of the movie maker, and that both visions have their merit, than it is a really, really good movie.

    Personally I think they went really lightly on Travers (and were surprisingly honest about Walt Disney being first and foremost a businessman who could be ruthless when necessary). I read a lot about Travers, and she strikes me as a writer who had a minor success and immediately saw herself as above the stupid normal people. The only reason she ever sold the rights at all was because she needed the money, and she made the production hell for everyone involved with her various requests. And in the end, selling the rights rescued her, because her books would have been long forgotten if not for this movie.

    Plus she tended to want her cake and eat it too. Her constant snubbing of the movie would have been way more believable if she had stuck to her guns. But later she would allow the Broadway musical to be made, but also insisted on no one from the original production being involved, even though she was not above them using the actual music (which she originally vetoed). The line in the movie she says about one of the Sherman brother getting shot is way harsher if you know that he was shot in WWII. I guess that’s my only peeve with the movie. It concentrates so much on Disney and Travers that it skips over the poor guys in the middle, which were basically the Sherman brothers.

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    1. I think they even tell her that it was a war injury! I mean you think a British woman would be grateful for an American war veteran! I don’t know if any other actress could have pulled off that performance. Maybe Helen Miren but not many.
      Yeah I was shocked how prickly they made her. She isn’t even very nice to the chauffeur. Normally that kind of one-note character doesn’t work but for some reason it did. I think maybe it is because we all have that prideful spirit within us just hopefully not as strong.
      I’ve heard the books are pretty grim and boring? Sounds like the whimsey did some good! It’s interesting that Walt’s daughters were so attached to them. I wonder why? I’ve never read them myself.
      I agree I loved the way they showed Disney as a businessman who smoked and drank, lost his temper on occasion. I think that is pretty brave of the normally tight lipped image conscious Disney. And that he refused to invite her to the premiere was interesting side to his character.
      The attachment of an artist to their work seems to be real no matter how mediocre. I feel a sense of attachment to my various blogs and videos and yet I know in the grand scheme of things they aren’t that special. I think the references back to her childhood, which were so well done, helped make the Travers character tough to figure out and not as one-note as it might have been, especially considering we all know the outcome. (Ed Wood is a good example of a movie about a mediocre talent who takes himself very seriously).
      Did the London scene move you? I was so touched by it. It really made me think.
      But I totally agree the development of the movie, however fictionalized it may have been, was so wonderful to watch and I like that it was at that development stage. We never saw a set or camera filming. That was cool.

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      1. I found it hard to be too horrified by Travers because the audience I was with kept laughing hysterically at everything she said and did. It was honestly bizarre, I felt like I was on a sitcom, with these big muscle-bound guys filling the theater with constant overwhelming belly laughs because they seemed to love her prickliness. But to their credit they were quiet during everything that was not supposed to be funny, even Walt’s “Said the woman who wrote the book about a flying nanny who comes to save the children.” And eventually you could hear a pin drop.

        The thing I found the strangest was as the movie ended someone was saying “It’s a movie about a movie…..” Was she paying attention at all? I went in thinking it would be the story of the making of a great American movie, and came out realizing it was the heavily-fictionalized tale of the life of a great Australian author.

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      2. Yeah it was fictionalized. I guess I knew that going into it so I was able to appreciate it as a story on it’s own.

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    2. Travers disapproving of Dick van Dyke is completely true and not very hard to believe at all, because it was the reaction of most British viewers who enjoyed taunting Dick Van Dyke’s accent in the film so long that he refused to even attempt one for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang 4 years later. Dick Van Dyke himself has admitted to feeling he was miscast and believing actors like Ron Moody would have been better for the part.

      I read the original Mary Poppins book and enjoyed it a lot. Despite being 13 when I read it I got into it to a surprising extent and I found the chapter where the babies lose their ability to talk to animals genuinely emotional and tearjerking. Which makes sense when you see the P.L. Travers portrayed here. I also liked surreal imagery like the children being hustled off to a human zoo in the middle of the night and the wild animals turning on Michael when he tried to steal Mary’s amulet. The books wouldn’t have been entirely forgotten, but mostly. My aunt (who I went to see this movie with) actually enjoyed the Mary Poppins books as a child long before the movie came out.

      I agree with this comment. I liked the movie despite the fact that I was shocked at how much it turned into an excuse to engineer the idea that everything in Travers’ books was inspired by her own childhood. I was expecting it to focus more on the development of the movie and Travers’ conflict with Disney. I think the writers probably realized this would grow old too quickly and make Travers too unlikable, but they were still the most interesting part of the movie. The idea probably was to give the flashbacks to make Travers sympathetic, but then they completely took over the film.

      The ending is particularly hilarious if you know why Travers was really crying. When we left the theater I explained to my aunt as much of the truth behind Travers’ conflict over the film as I could. But in the end I decided that it was the best ending for the story they had created in any case. It’s a touch too Hollywood and Disney-fied, but perhaps that’s fitting given the material. The filmmakers obviously knew exactly who would be going to see the movie, people like me and my aunt, and elderly people who had seen Mary Poppins in the theater in 1964.

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      1. Disney didn’t really write the script…the script actually won an award a while back, and the question was which studio would pick it up. I think it was smart of Disney to do it themselves instead of leaving it to another studio. I don’t think that the writer every really cared about historical accuracy. The son of one of the Sherman brothers commented on it, and boy, the guy positively hates Travers. He said that he listened to the tapes of the recording lessons, and how awful his father was treated during them.

        Long before this movie was ever made Robert Sherman commented that the biggest challenge in making the movie was finding a theme to built a proper narrative around (they did when they created “Feed the birds” – which Travers didn’t like, but then, she wanted Victorian songs, not original ones). So the whole bit that it is about the father is a big pile of nonsense.

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      2. I guess I was able to move on from the historical inaccuracies and just appreciate it as a story. I was really moved by the idea that we all have moments where childhood is over and we resent whoever gave us that moment. That’s why the speech in London about being the paperboy moves me. There are things in my life “I’m tired of remembering that way”. I’m personally glad they had the backstory because it made that moment really matter for the characters created in the movie even if not accurate.

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      3. Like I said, I see the movie as being less about the actual characters and more about the difference between book and movie, and how hard it is too create a good adaptation, how the vision of the writer and the movie maker can clash and how sometimes nevertheless in the end something truly good is the end result.

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      4. I thought it was bittersweet ending because I knew why she was crying. To me that made it more nuanced and moving. But really I was just so moved by the London speech. It hit me and made a big impact.
        I also just love Paul Giamatti in this. What a wonderful, sweet guy.

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      5. Especially funny when Jaleel White rants about Urkel being a part he played when he was a child despite Family Matters only having been over for 4 years in 2002.

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  2. Great film and Emma Thompson was soooo robbed of an Academy Award nomination! (This is one of those few cases where I get obsessed over an Academy Award snub, lol).

    And as I said in my review of the film on my live-action blog, Tom Hanks didn’t do anything for me really. I didn’t see Walt Disney at all…I saw Tom Hanks with a mustache! I mean, he tried his best, but all I saw was Tom Hanks with a mustache! Whereas Emma Thompson WAS P.L. Travers to me!

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  3. I agree, this is probably one of the best Disney films to come out in recent years, and entered my top ten live action Disney movies as well!! For a story that fictionalized certain elements (like the conversations between P.L. Travers and Walt Disney and showing her dancing and singing to ‘Lets Go Fly a Kite’), the film was very charming and engaging to watch, in no small part to the performances Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks and Colin Farrell. I believe they captured the rocky dynamic between two very different creative teams, between authors and producers, and presented it in a way that neither were necessarily right or wrong, only that they had very unique ways of interpreting the original stories. In the end, I dare say the film version has outlasted the popularity of the books.

    In watching the blu ray special features, I thought it was both really cool and really moving to see Richard Sherman give his blessing to the production team and congratulating them for their efforts, it was especially telling when he started playing ‘Lets Go Fly A Kite’ for the cast and crew to sing along to

    As someone who wants to be a published author one day, this film resonated very strongly with me – would I be as much of a purist as Mrs Travers I would I be able to make a lot of compromises in that position? I sympathized with Travers’ concerns and felt her emotional plight via the flashbacks. Still, I did think she went too far with her insults towards one of the Sherman Brothers and her very strong dislike of traditional animation (a medium which is becoming increasingly rare nowadays); I hesitate to wonder what she’d make of Toy Story or WALL-E in that case!! But it goes to show that while most of the characters had good intentions they still had very human flaws and egos. Its the sort of story that I wish Disney would dabble in more often, proving that they can carry a film with great actors and great performances rather than just visual effects or brand recognition. Overall, I’m very glad to have seen it!

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