Thursday, 30 January 2014

Film Review: Saving Mr. Banks

Saving Mr. Banks is the untold tale behind one of the most cherished family movies ever made; determined to bring the character of Mary Poppins to the big screen, Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) sets out to woo the books author, P.L. Travers, by whisking her over to Los Angeles to sign the rights to the character.

However, things don't go smoothly, with the hard-nosed English woman unimpressed by Disney, and the two butt heads over the movie.

Starring Emma Thompson as P.L. Travers and Tom Hanks as Walt Disney, Saving Mr. Banks was actually a lot better than I had expected. Maybe my cynicism got the better of me, but when I read that Disney was making a film about Walt Disney himself, I pretty much wrote it off as a 2-hour long pat-on-the-back.

Instead, Saving Mr. Banks is one of the best, and most widely accessible, dramas of the last 12 months. It's fun, it's entertaining, it's sad and touching and it's really well-acted. Upon walking out of the cinema, I couldn't pin-point all too much to fault it on. It leaves you grinning from ear to ear with glee.

First off, the acting talent. Emma Thompson takes centre-stage as Travers, the fussy and uptight author of Mary Poppins. She's a typical hard-nosed English woman - stiff, strict and completely devoid of humour. Thompson is fantastic in the role; she may have lost the Golden Globe and the SAG to Cate Blanchett, but she did enough to win in my opinion.

It's when her stiff, English exterior comes down to expose the softer sides to her character that her brilliance really shines through. The narrative swings between the 60's setting of Hollywood and the 1900's rural Australian setting in which Travers grew up. We begin to see her inspiration for the characters in Mary Poppins take shape and how they form a close personal connection with her.

I liked that the film flitted between the two settings, rather than showing them in two solid blocks. It makes the revelations and discovery of Travers' past a lot more effective by cutting between her past and present. More than once, scenes in both time periods are run almost simultaneously, flitting back from one to the other from line to line. It may annoy some, as the middle third of the film stalls a little and strings the story out, but on the whole, the technique was done really well. Plus, the costumes, cinematography and all round aesthetic for 1900's Australia looked fantastic.

One of the films other strong suits was Tom Hanks as Walt Disney. His is a role that lends itself perfectly to Hanks, and he ensures his natural charm and charisma shines through. What else is there to say other than that he's brilliant?

As for the rest of the cast, they don't let the side down. Colin Farrell was equal parts charming and pitiful as Travers' drunken father whilst Paul Giamatti is effortlessly likeable as Travers' driver. Paul Schwatzmann is also a hoot as one of the Sherman brothers tasked with writing the songs for Mary Poppins.

Hollywood has developed something of a love-affair with making movies about movies; the twinkling self-referential humour and jokes about the nature of the industry make them popular with studios - from Singing in the Rain to Argo and The Artist, movies about movies are often fun, in not a little self-indulgent, stories that allow the audience to discover the 'making of' in a dramatized way.

With its tame PG-13 rating and bright, fun Hollywood setting, Saving Mr. Banks could have very easily fallen into the common pitfalls of the sub-genre; overly sentimental, or too lenient with the real truth, movies about movies can sometimes lack authenticity.

However, this is not the case with Saving Mr. Banks - the movie may idolize Walt a little, but for the most part, it doesn't steer too far away from showing the audience the real story behind Mary Poppins. It makes of point of hammering home the dislike Travers had for Disney, its cartoons and its songs.

On the whole, the film is actually really really good. The story is good for the whole family, the execution is polished and the acting is superb.

The Verdict: 8.5/10

Saving Mr. Banks is a sweet family-friendly movie that is filled with a whole host of fantastic performances - Hanks, Thompson, Farrell, Giamatti and Schwartzmann, everybody gets a turn in the spotlight and works wonders with the charming and endearing script. It packs a surprising emotional punch and as a result, is practically perfect in (almost) every way. 


  1. Great review! I actually really liked this one quite a bit myself. The acting was all great, and as you said, I also found myself enjoying the intertwining between past and present that was at play. Overall, a charming movie. :)

    1. Thanks for commenting Chris! Very charming indeed :) Hanks can do no wrong recently!



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