Saving Mr. Banks

By on January 2, 2014

The very definition of Oscar bait, “Saving Mr. Banks” is firing on all cylinders right out of the gate. We’re talking Oscar winners Tom Hanks as Walt Disney and Emma Thompson as “Mary Poppins” author P.L. Travers, in a based-in-fact story of how the film version of that classic came about- and almost didn’t. If that doesn’t get Oscar voters onboard, I don’t know what will. It just so happens that, in this case, the end result is fully deserving of the anticipation, as the film is incredibly entertaining and easily one of the best efforts I’ve seen all year.

I mean, honestly? Who can’t resist the idea of Hanks as Disney- the man himself? They don’t look much alike, but mark my words, you entirely forget you’re watching Hanks within minutes and you immediately buy him as Disney, no problem. Hanks just nails it. I’m a life-long Disney fan, and I’ve seen plenty of footage of the man himself, and this film gets it right across the board, from the genial when he needs to be, no nonsense when he doesn’t side of Walt to the more public persona as he interacts with the empire, such as the recreations of his intros to the “Wonderful World of Disney” show. If Hanks doesn’t already get an Oscar nod for “Captain Phillips,” this one seems likely as a shoe-in for Best Supporting Actor.

That said, fair warning, it is only a supporting role. While Hanks owns every scene he’s in, this is really Thompson’s show, and she’s equally as good in a wholly opposite way, which is, of course, the intention of the film. Here are two titans of children’s entertainment, one a writer, one an all-around entrepreneur, and though they both work in the same essential field, they couldn’t be more different, which leads to trouble at every turn, especially for poor Disney, who can’t get why Travers resists his intentions for delivering a movie version of her books.

In reality, it took Disney twenty years to even secure the rights for the film version, and another two to get the project, for which Travers had script approval of, into actual production! The film condenses a lot of the actual events for obvious reasons, and rethinks others for storytelling purposes, or at least “if it didn’t happen this way, it should have” reasons, such as the show-stopping bit at Disneyland, where Walt himself treats a not-altogether-willing Travers to a trip to the park himself, which never happened. (In reality, he had his people do a lot of the stuff depicted in the movie, including foisting Travers on his brother, Roy, for the Disneyland trip.)

Still, this is no sanitized Disney film that seeks to rewrite history or white-wash a lot of the actual events or the people involved. As depicted here, Walt is a hands-on boss that involves himself in everything, and is not above the occasional drink or cigarette or raising his voice when needed; while Travers is a buttoned-down, prim and proper type that objects to Disney and his people’s efforts at nearly every turn. Likewise, her past, which is shown in flashbacks, is shown in a warts-and-all fashion, including the alcoholism that killed her father, here played by an arguably never-better Colin Farrell, as the real-life Mr. Banks that inspired Travers’ character in “Mary Poppins.”

This is fine filmmaking across the board, from the casting- which also includes Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak as the music-writing Sherman Brothers; Paul Giamatti as Travers’ driver; and Rachel Griffiths’ as Travers’ aunt, who served as the inspiration for Poppins herself- to the script, which is full of delightful touches, such as Travers’ reservations about some of the Sherman Brothers more off-kilter lyrics, i.e. “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” which should’ve caused my spell check to self-destruct but surprisingly didn’t- that’s how much a part of pop culture that word is!  And how awesome is it to see Disneyland circa the early 60s recreated? This is just great subject matter, plain and simple, and it lends itself wonderfully to a movie. Hell, I even got a little misty-eyed here and there, and that rarely happens anymore to this (semi) hardened critic. (I blame “Twilight.”)

So, if you’re looking for a film that entertains children and their parents alike, you could do a lot worse. It may be a little more geared to the adults than the kids, actually, but it’s entertaining enough that they shouldn’t care too much. (For the record, my tween-age nieces liked it just fine, though they are well-versed in the Disney, including having seen “Mary Poppins” beforehand long ago.) I’m going to give it an A+ and keep my fingers crossed come Oscar time. It might not sweep the ceremony- there’s stiff competition this year in particular- but it should at the very least garner some well-earned nods.

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About Mark Trammell

Mark Trammell is the resident entertainment critic at UAB, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where he is also a Graduate Student and does a vid-cast movie review show. He is a life-long fan of films and has a pretty whacked-out, all-over-the-place movie collection that would give most sane people pause. He loves horror movies and Disney flicks and isn't entirely sure there is a difference. He one day hopes to put his money where his mouth is and inflict his own perverse vision on society, entirely so that he can tell people who ask: "If you think you can do better, why don't you make a movie yourself?" to shut up.
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