What did we think of the feel-good Saving Mr. Banks? Read on to find out!
Read more to learn just how much the tug-at-your-heartstrings Saving Mr. Banks wants desperately to be an Oscar winner.
As we head into the Oscar season - a time when Hollywood supposedly gives us the best they've got - the first volley arrives in the entertaining Saving Mr. Banks.
Set in the early 1960's, writer Pamela Travers (Emma Thompson) has agreed to turn her novel Mary Poppins into a full-length Disney feature film. Alone and fiercely protective of her work, she's been wooed for 20 years by Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) to give up her rights. But the decision to do so - at least early on - is motivated by financial reasons: the royalties to her beloved book are exhausted, and so she grudgingly journeys to Los Angeles to meet Disney and his creative team. From the moment she arrives, Travers clashes with the affable Sherman brothers (B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman), who had created many of Disney's lyrical treasures but are oft-put by her bristling personality. She hates Disney's concept of adding animated elements to the film, and feels his theme park casts too many rays of sunshine for its own good. As she and Walt clash over the tone of the picture, Travers begins to deal with the personal tragedy which served as the story's influence, including her loving but alcoholic father (Colin Farrell) and her mother (Ruth Wilson) who can't motivate her husband to do anything more than dream. As the emotional and creative struggles rage within her, Travers learns about the power of her novel from a limo driver (Paul Giamatti), but must decide if 'letting go' is more than just a financial decision.
A Disney film about a Disney film could have been self-congratulatory and pompus, extolling the magic that is The Mouse and elevating the original Mary Poppins into cinematic godhood Luckily, we're given a much smaller, personal story here by Writer Kelly Marcel, and the results are favorable. She mixes in just enough comedy - which probably wasn't 'funny' at the time - as Travers bristles her way through LA like a firestorm. If it's to be believed, Travers was the classic Pain in the Arse, which does provide for many chuckles as she sneers at The Sherman Brothers or commits a social faux pas on the plane ride to LA. Marcel does a good job of personalizing her backstory without things becoming too schmaltzy or preachy, sharing this heretofore untold story with enough wit and charm to land minor Oscar attention.
The unflappable Thompson is usually excellent in everything she touches, and her performance as the battleaxe Travers is great but not unique. This isn't the transformation we witnessed with Lincoln's Daniel Day Lewis, more like a Brit playing a Aussie playing a Brit. Thompson does carry the emotional weight of Travers like Jesus carried the cross, but it's this performance which actually hurts the story long-term. The idea of such an inflexible figure giving up her beloved characters in a pivotal third act scene lacks the emotional (or realistic) punch we would have expected. Granted, Director John Lee Hancock does paint pretty pictures, wrapping us in the greens of the Disney lot and the browns of the Australian outback, but he never pushes Thompson or Hanks to an emotional cliff. A lot of what happens here is an internal struggle, with Travers remembering her childhood difficulties while The Sherman brothers and Disney penner Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford) attempt to woo her with snappy musical numbers. In the real world, Travers would have either abandoned the project early on, or ruminated on her impending financial calamity, which is only lightly touched upon in the first act. Hanks as Disney and Giamatti as the driver are serviceable, but just like Thompson there's too much of their own personalities in their respective roles. We could have imagined other similarly-aged actors here, a fact we could never have said with Lewis' once-in-a-decade performance from 2012.
Don't get us wrong, Banks is a beautiful picture, and one will leave the theater with Disney pixie dust in their eyes. Ferrell is terrific as the alcoholic father, as is Whitford, Schwartzman and Wilson, and the score by Composer Thomas Newman perfectly matches the tone. Overall, its feel-good approach will make the personal story of Travers all the more interesting.
The adorable, star-studded Saving Mr. Banks will win you over with its heart, but some will find its message about letting go - as well as Travers's bristling personality - hard to swallow. To think someone so inflexible to change in the previous two acts would suddenly in the third do so at the hands of a mega-conglomeration is without logic. We suspect there's an even deeper story to be told here, but the one were given isn't bad. The performances are great but not top-notch, and there's just enough comedy and singing to keep everyone's feet tapping without things becoming too preachy or overly tear-jerky. And while it will show up on many Oscar nomination ballots, we can't imagine it earning any top prizes, even though it desperately wants to. Saving Mr. Banks is rated PG-13 for adult themes, and has a runtime of 125 minutes.
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