“Saving Mr. Banks” Review: Emma Thompson’s Charming Cantankerous Energy Stands Out In This Sentimental Biopic

saving mr banks tom hanks emma thompson

It’s never easy to write about writers writing about a movie as iconic as Mary Poppins, but in some odd and charming way Saving Mr. Banks accomplished that. In a day an age where Hollywood producers are vying for the vision and the writer’s are losing it, this film is not only a look back at the wheeling and dealing of getting projects off the ground and Hollywood tycoons like Disney convincing P.L. Travers to sell the rights to the book, it is also a look at how much we hold on to the past and how that may prevent us with moving on with our lives.

That kinds of sentimentality works for any kind of audience because of their attachment to family. Okay not necessarily selling the rights to their book (because that’s enough stress as it is), but the kind of sentimentality that tells us that there is more to a person than what we read in the papers (again I speak in terms of times before the age of social media). Hit the jump for the full review.

In the film, Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) has being vying to buy the rights to P.L. Travers’s (Emma Thompson) Mary Poppins for the better part of 20 years. TO him he made a promise to his daughters to bring her to life via a movie, and has failed to deliver because of Traver’s initial fear of seeing her beloved character Disneyifed. It takes a lot of work on both ends of the spectrum, with Walt using his witty charm, and Travers eventually coming to terms with her past, that they can finally come together.

Now it may look like that Travers may have a cold heart, but screenwriters Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith wrote a script carefully weaving in flashbacks to show that Travers wasn’t the stone faced dead soul kind of person she is on screen. These flashbacks reveal an innocent child riding on the winds of imagination and hope which were all fueled by her father’s (Farrell) fairytale storytelling and deep love for his family.

Of course that layer isn’t as sparkly as you may think. Traver’s father, only wants what is best for his family, but hides behind a veil of work, an ill-temper, alcoholism, and a terminal illness. Unfortunately, the film’s marketing buries a wonderful performance, which is content on focusing its award campaign on Thompson and Hank’s performance. While the two are the stars of the show, there is a list of reasons for also making an awards push for Farrell, Jason Schwartzman, and even Paul Giamatti.

Thompson has this gravitas that she never seems to forget to bring to every performance. From the moment Traver’s steps foot into LA, she is immediately hesitant to it. Saying that it smells like sweat and chlorine. It doesn’t help that she is turned off by her driver’s (played by the wonderful Giamatti) sunny disposition. Nor does it help that Disney stuffs her hotel room with Disney memorabilia and pears.

But it’s when the two finally meet that they are constantly butting heads, where Thompson’s case for a Oscar nom finally begins. While Hanks has the personality to capture Disney’s spirit. But the film can’t turn away from Thompson or her younger self (played by Annie Rose Buckley). Watching Farrell waltz on screen showing the affection he has for his family, but drowning in work and alcoholism gives Saving Mr. Banks a sweet and sometime harsh look at the reality that inspired Mary Poppins, but one that seems a little bit incomplete considering how the flashbacks end.

So while it may seem like it is really about the war of the rights, the really is really about how Traver’s eventually was able to give in. But for someone who seemed bitter throughout her entire life, the film makes it seem as though this one single solitary event was able to tip the scales and change her from someone with a heart of ice into a heart of gold.

Not that there is anything wrong with that, but people don’t really change that easily. That being said, the key to this film’s success is it’s ability to deliver the message of sentimentality. Disney finally understood Traver’s connection to her beloved Mary Poppins, because it’s a direct reflection on how he feels to Mickey Mouse. The two have built a bond with their properties, and it’s those two properties that connect the two.

Other key moments in the film include the creation of the songs. Schwartzman plays Richard Sherman, along with B.J. Novak who plays his brother Robert Sherman. Together they play a wonderful duo, who are able to display that singing the songs are just as enthusiastic and fun as singing them. But if there was one to stand out between the two, it would have to be Schwartzman who brings his energy (and obvious love and knowledge of music) to the table. Right when they start to sing (and convince Travers) “Let’s Go Fly A Kite,” you can help but feel that bit of nostalgia run through your veins as you hum along to the song.

Now like all biopics, there tends to a few changes in the pages of history, and just how many changes were made to this film can almost easily be pointed out by anyone who is really familiar with how everything went down. However, ignoring that, and realizing the underlining message of the film, Saving Mr. Banks is a heartwarming film and fine tribute to both Walt Disney and P.L. Travers.

Rating: 3.5/5

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