historical inaccuracies aside, Saving Mr. Banks is still a fine drama featuring two wonderful performances from Emma Thompson, who should have received an Oscar nod, and Tom Hanks. Yes, it is emotionally manipulative but it’s for one’s heartstrings not to be pulled at certain scenes.
Saving Mr. Banks
Genre(s): Drama, Comedy
Disney | PG13 – 125 min. – $36.99 | March 18, 2014
THE MOVIE – 4.25/5
Movies based on true stories always give me pause and when you get something with historical reference, in this case on how Mary Poppins made it to the big screen and the back story, I often wonder what is true and what was changed to add dramatic effect. Well, in regards to the latter, I have no idea, but damn if Disney and director John Lee Hancock know how to emotional manipulate their audience… yet it still works so well.
Saving Mr. Banks centers on “Mary Poppins” author P.L. Travers (EMMA THOMPSON) who is financial strapped and after being courted for decades by Walt Disney (TOM HANKS) to sign over the rights to her book, agree to meet Disney in Los Angeles. Once there, where she’s picked up by upbeat driver Ralph (PAUL GIAMATTI), instead of signing over the rights, she instead will only do so if she approves of the screenplay. Thus Travers goes to work with song writers Robert and Richard Sherman (B.J. NOVAK and JASON SCHWARTZMAN) and scriptwriter Don DaGradi (BRADLEY WHITFORD) but her abrasive nature rubs others the wrong way, to say the least.
The movie balances this portion with telling Travers’ difficult childhood centered on her doting father (COLIN FARRELL), difficult mother (RUTH WILSON) and her younger sister growing up in 1906 Australian outback town of Allora, Queensland. These sequences provides the context of why the adult Travers is so protective of Mary Poppins while also giving an emotional anchor to not only care about her but even tolerate her often obtuse behavior, although from my readings, Walt Disney was hardly a saint in this ordeal but he was treated with kid gloves.
The remainder of the film finds Travers butting heads with Disney, Disney kowtowing to the woman and although she’s presented as an unforgiving and often grating person, by the film’s end we get a better sense of her and understand why she holds on to Mary Poppins to tightly. In the hands of another actress, even the great ones, the role wouldn’t have worked but Emma Thompson brings a sense of humanity to her, giving one heck of a performance, deserving of an Oscar nomination that never came. Thompson embodies the role so well and makes a tough woman completely bearable.
For his part, Tom Hanks does a wonderful job as Walt Disney bringing the man’s Midwest sensibilities and charm. Now, whether or not this is the real Disney or a view of the man through rose-colored glasses and censored due to it being produced (i.e. financed) by the company he founded, I have no idea, but Hanks’ portrayal is wonderful and brings enthusiasm to the picture.
The supporting cast for their parts are wonderful from Colin Farrell in a refreshingly smallish, yet important, role; Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak as the Sherman Brothers have wonder chemistry in their limited screen time (same for Bradley Whitford who is in most of his scenes with the pair); and Paul Giamatti brings levity and allows audiences to see the softer side to Thompson’s Travers.
Saving Mr. Banks was helmed by John Lee Hancock who, between The Blind Side and The Rookie, has the background for this kind of material: heartfelt in all the right places. Having said that, and giving proper praise to the actors amazing performances, my biggest issue comes with the story itself where things happen that, from what I read, never did and these aren’t minor instances or scenes inserted for dramatic purposes but misrepresents the true feelings especially by Travers who was not at all pleased with what Walt Disney did with the Mary Poppins character. Kind of like how Michael Bay made creative changes for Pain and Gain, it’s kind of off-putting…
Now, if I set aside the concerns with the story, Saving Mr. Banks is a well made drama and taking into consideration the basis of the story is on solid footing, it is a fascinating tale and gives insight into Travers and how her childhood influenced her personality towards others. So, if you can look past the dramatic changes, then you’ll be able to enjoy the film.
SPECIAL FEATURES – 1.5/5
This release comes with a matted slip cover. Inside is a code to get the Digital Copy.
Deleted Scenes (7:24; HD) – There are three scenes removed and although there’s nothing terribly wrong, they do drag the film down in terms of pacing.
The Walt Disney Studios: From Poppins to the Present (14:35; HD) is a short featurette is a tour of the Disney Studios lot by director John Lee Hancock and the research done to recreate the studio in the movie. We also get comments from the children of those who worked on Mary Poppins.
“Let’s Go Fly a Kite” (1:47; HD) has the cast and crew breaking out in a rousing and heartfelt tribute to composer Richard Sherman on the last day of filming.
VIDEO – 4.5/5
Saving Mr. Banks is presented with a 2.40 widescreen aspect ratio and a 1080p high-definition transfer. The picture, as expected, looks quite good with sharp detail levels while colors are bright and cheerful during the 1960s portion before being drowned out when showing Travers’ childhood in the early 1900s. There are no signs of artifacts or pixilation and there are no apparent signs of other flaws; it’s a fine transfer that might not pop off the screen but it’s more than adequate.
AUDIO – 4.75/5
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track takes full advantage of the musical numbers re-created, plus the score by Thomas Newman, shining through every channel with effective clarity. Dialogue sounds crisp and clear throughout and although the rear channels don’t get a whole lot of usage, I did notice some ambient noises.
OVERALL – 4.0/5
Overall, historical inaccuracies aside, Saving Mr. Banks is still a fine drama featuring two wonderful performances from Emma Thompson, who should have received an Oscar nod, and Tom Hanks. Yes, it is emotionally manipulative but it’s for one’s heartstrings not to be pulled at certain scenes. The Blu-ray released by Disney offers solid video/audio transfers but is disappointedly weak in the features department.
Brian Oliver, The Movieman
Check out some more screen caps by going to page 2. Please note, these do contain spoilers.