If you've read my 'Frozen' review, then you know how much I love Disney's biggest hit of 2013. But - oh yeah - Disney released a another film in 2013, didn't they? A live-action thing about Mary Poppins?
My thoughts on Saving Mr Banks can be read below. But enough about me - what did you think of the film? Did you think it was practically perfect in every way, or did you think it needed more than just a spoonful of sugar just so you could stomach it? Have you even seen it? Post your thoughts!
Saving Mr Banks: a (belated) review
Mary Poppins. What can you say about it? It’s one of Disney’s most popular and enduring classics. Its memorable characters, magical direction, and glorious songs make it one of our most fondly-remembered childhood favourites.
Would you ever have thought it would have had such a troubled production history?
Saving Mr Banks, itself a Disney production, details the making of Disney’s Mary Poppins: specifically, the battles between Walt Disney and P.L. Travers, the author of the original books. The film was a fairly big box office hit last year, winning critical praise and audience approval alike, but – what with one thing and another – I’ve only just got around to seeing it. I know it’s not animated, which makes it a little out of my comfort zone – but it is also a Disney film, which makes it very much within my comfort zone. So, that coupled with how impressed I was with the film makes it ideal for reviewing.
What’s the story? Well, after 20 years (no, really) of badgering her, Walt Disney finally gets P.L. Travers to travel from London to Los Angeles, to possibly discuss handing the film rights to Mary Poppins over to him. He’s wanted to put the book on screen so badly that he’s refused to give up. Travers, a difficult woman, is highly critical of Disney and everything his corporation stands for, and refuses to sign off on the rights unless everything about the film is just the way she wants it. Gradually, however, we see that Travers is more than just a crotchety old stick-in-the-mud: the book and its characters mean more to her than anyone could have imagined.
What I really love about this storyline is that it humanises every character. Disney himself – the literal creator of the Disney corporation, and seemingly untouchable before this – is not shown to be perfect. He smokes, he drinks, he’s more than a little manipulative. But, all the same, he has a genuine love of Mary Poppins, and he can relate to Travers’ reluctance to put her characters into someone else’s hands. There’s a cab driver called Ralph whom Travers develops a strange sort of friendship with – again, he could have easily been made into a shiny happy problem-free Disney employee, but they give him real-person problems that eventually lead to one of the most poignant moments of the film.
And, as previously mentioned, Travers would have been an easy character to dislike. She picks holes in everything, throws the kindness of others back in their faces, and is so stubborn that she is almost impossible to work with. She wants no animation, no singing, no ‘frivolity’ from the heroine. Basically, she wants nothing even remotely Disney about it. Even something as seemingly silly as Mr Banks’ facial hair is of the utmost importance to her. As Disney, the Sherman brothers (who wrote the film’s songs) and the film’s scriptwriter grow increasingly frustrated with her, it would have been hard not to feel the same.
But the film hops back and forth between Travers in the 1960s, fighting it out with Disney, and Travers as a child in Australia. As some of the film’s most powerful scenes make clear, her childhood days were tough, and you can easily pinpoint which members of her real family became characters in Mary Poppins. When she says to Disney that Poppins and the Banks’ are family, she means it quite literally. With that in mind, she becomes nothing less than sympathetic, even at her most exasperating times. That’s a hard trick for a film to pull off.
Secondly, the acting in this film is of an incredibly high standard. It definitely deserved more than one solitary Oscar nod. Tom Hanks is Walt Disney – fitting casting, as I’m sure you’ll agree – and, as previously mentioned, strikes the perfect balance between the Uncle Walt that most people perceive Disney as, and the real person behind that. Does it make me like Disney as a person in a way I certainly didn’t before? No. But does it make him a bit more human? Absolutely.
Emma Thompson, a woman who always impresses me with her versatility, turns in a fantastic performance as Travers. She plays the straight-laced, traditionalist, headmistressly side of Travers well, occasionally getting in some really Dowager Countess of Grantham-level lines (*points at kind woman holding baby* “Will the child be a nuisance? Only it’s an 11-hour flight.”); but even more impressive is the way she plays the vulnerable side of Travers. There’s a heartbreaking scene in which the Sherman brothers (also very well-played by Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak) are playing their newly-written song ‘Fidelity Fiduciary Bank’ for her, which is the song about investing money wisely. This causes Travers to flash back to one of the most painful moments in her childhood, when her alcoholic father spectacularly shows himself up when making a speech on behalf of the bank. She becomes so overcome with emotion that she completely flips her lid at everyone in the room, and storms out. It’s a highly emotional scene that stuck in my mind most vividly out of the whole film, and it was Thompson’s performance that that was down to.
On the Australian side of things, a quick mention for Colin Farrell and Ruth Wilson, who play Travers’ parents. Farrell does a surprisingly good job playing a man who clearly just wants his children to be happy, but cannot make his dreams a reality, and lets his demons get the better of him. Wilson is heartbreaking as a woman pushed very nearly to the edge by her husband’s difficulties: a scene involving her, young P.L. Travers and a lake is probably the most upsetting in a film that pulls few dramatic punches.
Furthermore, the cinematography of Saving Mr Banks is gorgeous. It’s colourful, sunny, and sumptuous. The scenes in Los Angeles, complete with Hairspray fashions and smiley All-American Families left right and centre, is pleasing to the eye. It's more dusty and muted in Australia, which makes sense considering that this is where most of the more dramatic scenes take place, but never to the point that the film is physically dark. It’s a well-lit movie, and I like to see those.
Last but by no means least, a quick word about the musical score. It’s by Thomas Newman, who is second only to Alan Menken as my favourite film composer ever. His work on Finding Nemo and especially WALL-E is some of the most perfect music you will ever hear and if you haven’t heard it then go and do it NOW. I implore you. The score to this film carries his signature depth and beauty, with great use of piano, and it’s all interspersed with the original Sherman brothers songs from Mary Poppins. Hearing these beloved songs in a completely new context is like being shot in the chest by nostalgia – the knee-jerk reaction that everybody has to songs like Chim Chim Cher-ee and A Spoonful of Sugar gives you an instant emotional connection to the film.
Overall, Saving Mr Banks is a beautifully-made, emotionally touching film about one of Disney’s best, held together by wonderful performances and multiple subtle nods to the film that became of it. I’d highly recommend it for Poppins fans, Disney fans, or people who enjoy a well-made – if somewhat truth-bendy – historical drama. To whoever watches it – stay for the credits. You will not be disappointed.
Saving Mr Banks: a (belated) review Watch
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- 17-04-2014 16:02
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- 22-04-2014 19:28
It's better if you consider it a sequel to Saving Private Ryan.
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- 23-04-2014 13:52
Really strong film. I actually watched it on the plane from Heathrow to Florida (and attended Magic Kingdom whilst I was there!) so it got me in the mood for Disney. I really enjoyed Thompson's performance. I think she is massively under-rated in everything she is in. She has phenomenal depth and range as an actress, and Hanks is obviously a safe pair of hands too. A really interesting watch because I wasn't familiar with the Mary Poppins back-story. I know that there are a few differences from reality, but I considered it a good portrayal all the same!
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- 29-04-2014 00:17
I loved the film. I especially loved Emma Thompson as P.L. Travers - I think she deserved an Oscar nomination for the role.Last edited by Gofre; 02-05-2014 at 11:11.