Director: John Lee Hancock
Cast: Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Collin Farrell, Paul Giamatti, Bradley Whitford, Jason Shwartzman, B.J. Novak, Ruth Gordon, Annie Rose Buckley
Screenplay: Kelly Marcel & Sue Smith
It’s hard not to be mesmerised by “Saving Mr. Banks”, when the first few notes of a popular tune plays in the opening scene. And it continues to fascinate and entertain as the film about the creation of the popular “Mary Poppins” (1964) and her author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) unravels slowly, but surely. The master actors known and Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks gives impressive performances as Travers and Walt Disney, in a relationship that isn’t only realistic (though maybe highly romanticised) but fairly entertaining. Hancock’s sentimentality and emotional style may not have been my favourite part of the film, but it still works together as a whole.
As the film “Mary Poppins” gets made, English author P.L. Travers (Thompson) is having a hard decision whether or not she should sell the rights of her beloved children’s book to Walt Disney Pictures. In order to get her seal of approval, Disney (Tom Hanks) himself invites her over to the United States for final approval over the film’s production. Here, we are introduced to the infamous behaviour of Travers, who seems to loathe everything the crew has prepared with no reason at all. The character study of Travers’ character begins to unwind as we learn that the book wasn’t about “the children” at all, but about Travers’ loving but rather rocky relationship with her alcoholic father (Collin Farrell).
It would be a sin to me to say that Emma Thompson wasn’t good. The woman hardly sends out a bad performance, but to tell you the honest truth she did have a lot to work with. And it isn’t just the biopic of it all, but P.L. Travers herself was a very inconsistent person in terms of character. Based on the tape they played of the actual Travers in a Disney Studios meeting at the end of the credits, Thompson was on the spot. But the credit I give her is very much favourable because it isn’t imitation, but it’s acting. It shows because Thompson is at her best in the times where Travers is most vulnerable. Her show-stealing scenes aren’t those in the Disney Studios, but when she’s all by herself pondering on the life she’s left behind many years ago. Thompson was stellar, and this is her show.
Hanks and Farrell gave very strong performances, and though noteworthy, they aren’t Oscar worthy. The Disney that Hanks portrays is just what we picture him to be. He does what he’s asked and though he does a good job, that’s pretty much “it”. Collin Farrell is also very good, but to me was rather inconsistent, even though he had the free hand to do almost anything he wanted with his character. I may also blame the sentimentalised direction of John Lee Hancock, which often made Farrell a little bit corny to watch. The flashbacks were not my favourite part of the movie, it was often slow for me.
But still, the parts in the Disney studio, 1960s Los Angeles, and the creation of the “Mary Poppins” film was really something that interested me. It may be my bias for loving films about old Hollywood, but I’m not a big fan of the 1964 classic myself, so I look at it as Hancock’s true achievement in the film to keep it interesting and well flowing during those parts. The set decoration was great too, and is something Disney should push and campaign more, rather then the costume design.
To conclude, I liked “Saving Mr. Banks” a lot. It’s very good, but has the usual flaws. However, the strong performances (especially Emma Thompson), who overplays it to perfection, made the film worth while. I give it a score of 8 because the film kept me interested in subject matter of “Mary Poppins”, I normally would not like at all. The non-sentimetal parts were remarkable, and gives us a better “Making of” picture then last years atrocious “Hitchcock” film.