Friday, December 27, 2013

Saving Mr. Banks Movie Review

When I was little, one of my all time favorite movies was Mary Poppins. I've grown up hearing stories of a cute little three-year-old Dusty singing and dancing along to the tunes. Let's face it; I was a movie buff from a time when I could barely talk. Since I love movies about making movies (like Hitchcock), I was elated when I heard about Saving Mr. Banks (2013) I could barely contain myself in anticipation. The movie wasn't quite what the trailer suggested it was, but it was a pretty darn good movie.
When Walt Disney's daughters begged him to make a movie of their favorite book, P.L. Travers' Mary Poppins, He made them a promise - one that he didn't realize would take 20 years to keep. In his quest to obtain the rights, Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) comes up against a curmudgeonly uncompromising writer who has absolutely no intention of letting her beloved magical nanny get mauled by the Hollywood machine. But, as the books stop selling and the money grows short, P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) reluctantly agrees to go to Los Angeles to hear Disney's plan for the adaptation. For those two short weeks in 1961, Walt Disney pulls out all the stops. Armed with the imaginative storyboards from the scripts' co-writer, Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford), and chirpy songs from the talented Sherman brothers, Robert (B.J. Novak) and Richard (Jason Shwartzman), Walt launches an all-out onslaught on P.L. Travers. But she won't budge. He soon begins to watch helplessly as Travers becomes increasingly immovable and the rights begin to move further away from his grasp. It's only when he reaches into his own childhood that Walt discovers the truth about the ghosts that haunt her, and together they set Mary Poppins free to ultimately make one of the most endearing films in cinema history.
Saving Mr. Banks is simultaneously a biopic of P.L. Travers' life as a child and the story of her and Walt Disney at odds with one another over artistic expression. The narration leans more towards Travers' childhood than the story of making Mary Poppins. Walt wants to make an entertaining movie with musical numbers and the sort of whimsical magic and imagination that Disney studios is famous for. Travers has written a very heartfelt piece of fiction that is heavily influenced by her childhood experiences. The character of Mary Poppins is to P.L. Travers what Mickey Mouse is to Walt Disney; and she doesn't want  her character to be made into something ridiculous. They both want very different things, and yet the same thing; it makes for a fascinating conflict of interests. The characters in Travers' book were based on important figures in her life. If you had someone who had meaningfully changed your life, would you want a caricaturized version of this person dancing around with cartoon penguins for all the world to see? The more that Travers' history unfolds, we understand why seemingly trivial things such as the existence of Mr. Banks' mustache are important.
Tom Hanks as Walt Disney
I don't know that any prosthetics or special makeup jobs were used on Tom Hanks to make him resemble Walt Disney, but the similarities were impressive. Hank's eyes are more narrow than Disney's, but apart from that, they do look pretty similar. I thought it was a gutsy move for a Disney movie to place its founder in a movie, and to depict him as he is rather than the kindly grandpa image he did his best to project. Once Disney studios was on board for the project, the production team was given access to Travers' audio recordings of herself, Disney, the Shermans, and DaGradi that were produced during the development of Mary Poppins, in addition to letters written between Disney and Travers between the 1940s and 1960s. Much of the script was directly influenced by these documentations. John Lee Hancock, the director of Saving Mr. Banks, had reservations about Disney Studio's involvement, fearing they would edit the screenplay to sanitize or change the character of Walt Disney in any way. But Disney studios made no interference other than insisting that they omit any on-screen inhalation of cigarettes; more of a studio policy to not promote smoking in any way, rather than being an issue of censorship.
Saving Mr. Banks will likely change how you looked at the Mary Poppins movie. There's an impacting scene I won't go into detail about, but you'll know which one when you see it. You'll cringe, be relieved, and possibly be brought to tears when you see it. I know I did. I don't know how many times I've seen Mary Poppins, but Saving Mr. Banks changed how I perceived it, and not at all in a bad way. You'll likely become more emotionally invested in the Mary Poppins movie.
Saving Mr. Banks was an good drama film. It was significant to me since it was about movie making and about one of my childhood favorite films. The cinematography was fantastic, the special effects and costuming really brought to life the years 1906 and 1961. It was remarkable to see Disney Land as it was in the 1960's. There's a lot of emotional sentiment to be had for the characters, as well as some humorous scenes brought about by Travers' pompous British demeanor contrasting the American personalities. This probably won't appeal to everyone; if you're not into movie production stories, have never seen Mary Poppins, or don't like dramas much in general, you may not enjoy it very much. This movie also made me want to go read the book and see the Mary Poppins movie again. I think Saving Mr. Banks is worth seeing, but you could probably wait for it to hit home video. I enjoyed it a lot, and will probably be getting a copy on Blu-Ray when it comes out.

Have you seen Mary Poppins? Did you enjoy that as a child? Do you enjoy it now? Tell me your thoughts on the Mary Poppins movie in the comments below!


  1. Though not everything in this film may be totally accurate, it still makes for an enjoyable, if very emotional viewing. Good review Dustin.

    1. You are very right; the film wasn't very accurate, but accuracy wasn't the main point. The point was to have two dreamers who wanted to do very different things with the same material and how they butted heads with one another in the process. It's still an enjoyable and emotional movie. I'm glad I saw it, and I'm glad you enjoyed it, too.
      Thanks for your comments, Dan!