Review: Saving Mr. Banks
With: Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Paul Giamatti
Director: John Lee Hancock
Who doesn’t love Mary Poppins? It’s a film adored by young and old alike. I for one adore the film.
The same can't be said for the writer of the original books of Poppins’ adventures, P. L. Travers. I was aware of her hate of the film for some time and upon knowing this would get the Hollywood treatment, I had to see this (and the first film I’ve seen this year in the cinema).
Adding to the recent Disney mania was Phillip Glass' opera The Perfect American, on Disney seen last year. Upon listening to the score I found (most of) it ghastly. The words were horrendously bad. But one quote does shine through about Disney himself. A young animator described him as "Nothing more than a glorified CEO!" which may ring true. His megalomania can’t be denied. He always got what he wanted. Oh, and he was never cryogenically frozen either after dying. He was cremated, with his ashes scattered under a tree (nuff said about that). But the opera has caused waves and refused to be preformed in LA. Undoubtedly, it hit a nerve over there.
The film in a nutshell displays the power struggle of Disney versus Travers. Emma Thomson plays her with such Englishness; she is the height of bad manners (yet still very polite), sarcasm and disagreeableness. You could easily make a drinking game out of all the times she protests every detail of the film, songs, designs, and the rest. Thompson is undoubtedly Oscar fodder for the coming months. Disney is played by Tom Hanks and he is as usual his Tom Hank-ish self. He embeds himself in the role. I did believe he was Disney. He is a fairly decent look-alike as well (if a bit more stocky). Paul Giamatti as Travers’ driver for her time in the City of Angles, adds much warmth and to the film. As she points out, he is the only American she is fond of.
Travers’ childhood is what has moulded her acute, no-nonsense personality (her distain for pears was most questionable). Even for me, the themes of alcoholism and moving Down Under (where she was brought up) remain relatable. Sadly, the flashbacks to her childhood are the low points of the film. With Colin Farrell as her father and Ruth Wilson as her mother, it falls flat and slows down the pace of the film, for sepia moments of slight boredom. Turns out Mary Poppins was real, the inspiration coming from her own nanny, preformed by Rachel Griffiths. She is great in anything she’s in, even in this bit part for the film. Perhaps more of her here could have turned around the flashbacks for more bite. But it appears this is more about her dad and therefore Mr. Banks as well. Poppins saved him and not the children in the story, it would seem.
Thomas Newman, like with all his film scores adds more warmth, breadth and a timeless quality that can’t be rivalled today. Those strings and woodwind are instantly recognisable and simply can’t be mistaken.
As it turns out, Disney themselves have made this film. I’m not sure how to feel about that. Is it that big of a deal? Are they bowing to the honesty of opinions that were seen in Travers’ eyes (since they changed so much of her work)? The poster for the film sees both Disney and Travers’ walking. The former's shadow is that of Mickey Mouse and the latter is obviously that of Poppins. A clever yet ingenious visual joke for the poster.
Oh and if you do see the film there is an Easter egg in the end credits. You get to hear the original tapes of Travers’ and the rest plot out the film. It's word for word in the film and shows how truly unrelenting she really was in her creation. Down to the very last detail!
As films about films go, this remains high up there in the last few years' output of the so-called subgenre.
Jolly, honest and occasionally moving.