Summary : Great performances and an entertaining story.
A movie about the making of a movie, which is actually based on a book. Sounds a little self referential, doesn’t it? However, with great performances and an entertaining story, Saving Mr. Banks shows that the finished movie is only a small part of the very entertaining story.
Directed by John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side, the Alamo), Saving Mr. Banks tells how P.L. Travers’ children’s book Mary Poppins became a beloved movie. The all-star cast includes Emma Thompson as P.L Travers and Tom Hanks as Walt Disney, along with Paul Giamatti, Colin Farrell and Jason Schwartzman in supporting roles.
The film opens in England, where Travers is in negotiations with Disney to turn her book series about Mary Poppins into a film. But she is hesitant to give up her character without quite a few stipulations. The brunt of the film is set in Los Angeles, where Travers and the scriptwriters (Schwartzman, along with B.J Novak and Bradley Whitford) painstakingly go through the screenplay, and Walt Disney finds himself unable to charm his way into getting what he wants. This plot is intercut with flashbacks to Travers’ childhood, which helps explain why she is how she is.
Characters in Hancock’s movies (specifically this one and The Blind Side) usually have their characters’ quirks turned up to the max. If a character believes he is right all the time, then he is portrayed as the most stubborn person on the planet. Or if someone is supposed to have a big heart, then she almost oozes niceness. Not to say this is a bad thing, but it doesn’t leave much for interpretation. I bring this up because Travers is so hesitant for changes to happen to her story that her character sometimes borders on cartoonish. It’s a testament to Thompson that she doesn’t take this character over the edge.
Her character’s personality is also helped by the fact that she has to be this foreboding figure, because she’s going up against Walt Disney, who at that point in time, was at the height of his powers. The film does a great job of setting up Disney as the most powerful character long before he even appears. However, this makes it more daunting to present Travers as an equally opposing force, hence her heightened personality traits.
Thanks to trailers on TV and the Internet, you would assume that someone showing up to watch Saving Mr. Banks would know what it was about. Which is good, because once the film begins, the viewer is thrust 20 years into the negotiations between Disney and Travers. Neither Mary Poppins nor Disney is mentioned within the first 15 minutes, which is a refreshing lack of exposition.
The whole cast turns in the expected exemplary performances. It would have been more of a story if one of them had been off. Hanks and Thompson are great as usual, but Colin Farrell and Paul Giamatti provide excellent supporting turns as well.
Does Disney succeed in making the film? Of course he does, and the viewer knows this going in. With the ending already written, any unpredictability has to fall into the secondary story lines, and Saving Mr. Banks pulls these off tremendously well. All the storylines are entertaining, the performances great, and the directing is solid.
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