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Saving Mr. Banks

Saving Mr. Banks

What She said:

She

If you’re not extremely well versed with all things Disney and Mary Poppins, then you’ll probably approach Saving Mr. Banks wondering who the heck Mr. Banks is.  Let me do you a favor and clear that one right up for you now.  He’s the father from Mary Poppins, the production of which is the focus of this 2013 film.

Saving Mr. Banks centers on Mary Poppins author P. L. Travers, and her sale of the Mary Poppins story and character to Walt Disney for their 1964 production.  Now, I’m not familiar with the original stories at all, but apparently Mary Poppins was not as friendly as she was in the film version.  In fact, Travers’ stories differed from the Disney adaptation immensely.  And this was a point of division between Travers and Disney.  The two people could not be any more different.  Travers is extremely buttoned up, judgmental, and set in her ways.  Disney is warm, easygoing, and excitable.  Apparently, Disney pursued Travers for years to get the rights to the Mary Poppins story, and it wasn’t until she fell on hard times financially that she finally relented.  However, Travers wanted control over production, and so she traveled to Los Angeles to oversee the film adaptation.

From the outset, things are extremely strained.  Travers doesn’t like the idea of a musical.  She doesn’t like the casting of Dick van Dyke.  Mr. Banks should NOT have a mustache.  There should be absolutely NO red appearing anywhere in the film.  And most of all, there should be NO animation.  In other words, Travers seems to be difficult for the sake of being difficult.  Disney tries to strike a balance with Travers but she’s unrelenting, and we learn a little bit about why through some flashbacks to her childhood spent in Australia.  Young Travers did not live in riches, and her family life was far from perfect.  In fact, her father was an alcoholic in poor health who, although he loved his family deeply and had a special bond with Travers, was a perpetual screw-up.

Through the course of the film, viewers get to see the slow production of Mary Poppins while also witnessing Travers’ childhood story.  It all culminates with her attendance of the premiere of the film, which signifies a very emotional moment for her. 

The story we see here on screen is pretty far from the truth about the relationship between Walt Disney and P. L. Travers.  First of all, she never really liked him, and apparently spent decades not speaking to him at all.  She did not like the final product of Mary Poppins, but was basically told by Disney, “Tough cookies.”  Don’t get me wrong, she’s not softened too much for Saving Mr. Banks.  The woman is extremely rigid and wholly unlikable.  But apparently she was even worse in real life.

Saving Mr. Banks

Emma Thompson does a great job of playing Travers.  She embodies the woman well, and is a joy to watch on screen, even if she is a witch.  I loved Tom Hanks as Walt Disney.  While he may not have looked exactly like him, his demeanor seemed to match the man’s.  I have a soft spot for Hanks in general, but thought he was quite good in the role.  Paul Giamatti plays the very likable chauffer Ralph, who forms an unlikely bond with Travers as he’s charged with driving her around every day.  And Colin Farrell plays Travers’ father in the flashback sequences.

The story here is interesting and well done.  I liked Mary Poppins as a kid, but I don’t think I even owned it or anything.  They managed to make the conceptualization of the film pretty fascinating to watch, particularly the formation of the musical numbers.  The flashbacks don’t seem to pertain to the current story early in the film, but as you learn more about Travers’ relationship with her father, things start to make sense.  I ended up liking this integration of backstory, as it helps to explain how she became the P. L. Travers that we are acquainted with, even down to the name. 

The dialogue of this film is very well done, as the writers are able to use this medium to inject humor into the movie.  And there are some very funny moments here.  This helps to lighten things up a little, which is necessary to make the film something that the masses will want to watch.  It’s enjoyable to become reacquainted with some of the elements characteristic to Mary Poppins—the music, the costumes, and the characters.  There’s a sense of nostalgia there. 

Overall, I recommend this film for most viewers.  It’s not going to appeal to younger children or maybe even teenagers, who might find themselves bored.  But most will find this movie a good watch.

Thumbs up.

Saving Mr. Banks

What He said:

He
Saving Mr. Banks

The year is 1961 and author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) is struggling to make ends meet. At the urging of her agent, she reluctantly agrees to go to Los Angeles to meet Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) about adapting one of her books into a movie. Ms. Travers – as she insists on being called – is the author of called Mary Poppins. I had no idea the movie was based on a series of books, but it sounds like they were pretty popular. Because of this, Disney just had to get his hands on it.

The problem is Ms. Travers has no intentions on selling him the rights to the story – at least not as he’s currently written it for his movie.  She demands – well she demands a lot of things – final say on the script. She insists on reading through the script with the screenwriter (Bradley Whiteford) and music composers (Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak). If you haven’t picked up on the fact that she’s a little prickly, you will once they start reading the script.  Her demands range from petty to the unreasonable; the order that the color read not appear anywhere in the film for example.

We find out that Travers was the way she was because of her childhood. She was very close to her father, who was charismatic, imaginative, and a loving father. He was also an alcoholic and something of a screw up, particularly when it came to his career. If I had to guess, it seems like the man had trouble coping with certain aspects of life. He came off as a dreamer to me. He liked to play around, particularly with his kids. He was much happier playing in the fields or telling stories to his children than he was at work. That isn’t unlike a lot of people, but he was different. He really seemed to struggle with everyday life. The whole concept of work was depressing to him and he struggled to make it through a normal day, except when he was with his children.

Her mother also had troubles. For as charming and fun-loving as her father (played by Colin Farrell), her mother (played by Ruth Wilson) really struggled with being a parent. She had trouble bonding with her children and was always worried about their livelihood, which is understandable when your husband has a history of getting fired from jobs. It made for a stressful life in the Goff home.

Saving Mr. Banks

So the movie follows two parts of Travers’ life. We see what made her the way she is as well as the ramifications later in life. It focuses on her relationship with Disney as well as her trying to cope with some scars from her past.
If you are looking for a true-to-life interpretation of this story, this might not be the movie for you. There were some things that happened between her and Disney – revolving around the production of the movie – that simply weren’t true. Apparently, the real life P.L. Travers was actually meaner than portrayed on film too.

But if you are looking for a good story, then this movie is for you. It’s a great film from top-to-bottom. It’s a good story with some great character development. It’s got drama, plenty of laughs, and some fantastic performances.

Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson are absolutely wonderful as the two leads. Tom Hanks’ portrayal of Walt Disney is exactly how you’d envision a guy who dedicated his life to making families happy with his films and amusement park. He was the kind of guy who was a chain smoker, but didn’t like to be seen smoking, especially around children. In that sense, he seemed like a nice guy who you simply want to spend time with; even if you aren’t related to him. He had a certain warmth to him, which Ms. Travers did not. She was quite grumpy and difficult, though the movie version of her warms of up a bit towards the end.

One of the reasons she warms up are because of her interactions with her chauffer, Ralph. Ralph is played by Paul Giamatti. The character is a very down-to-earth guy, who is nothing but professional, even when Travers isn’t. He is the kind of person who will lend you a helping hand, even if you weren’t particularly nice to him in the past.

Bradley Whitford, Jason Schwartzman, and B.J. Novak were all solid in their supporting roles too. Their interactions with Emma Thompson were quite amusing.

Good movie, not so good in terms of being an accurate representation of historical events. So if you can get past that, you should enjoy this film.

Rating: Thumbs up.

This movie review was written for your reading pleasure on March 30, 2014.

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