Is it possible to make a movie based on a beloved character that you're unwilling to part with? What happens when circumstances change and you're forced to change your position? That's part of the premise behind the new movie "Saving Mr. Banks," which was based on the true story of how a classic Disney movie was brought to the big screen. The results may have been somewhat familiar, but the top notch performances from the main characters made it worth watching nonetheless.
"Saving Mr. Banks" followed the decades long struggle it took for "Mary Poppins" to make it to the big screen due to various circumstances and differences of opinion. The story sort of began, off-screen, when Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) made a promise to his daughters to find a way to turn their favorite book "Mary Poppins" into a movie. He spent the better part of 20 years of trying to buy the film rights from the book's imaginative author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson), but his efforts have proven fruitless because of her unwillingness to sign on the dotted line. Due to some financial trouble, Travers was forced to give Disney a chance and flew to California with much resistance. She was antagonistic to everyone who crossed her path, especially her optimistic driver Ralph (Paul Giamatti) who was forced to deal with Mrs. Travers' constant insults. She also belittled the potential film's writer Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford) and the two people involved with creating the film's musical numbers. As Travers' stay in California progressed, it was revealed that she had a reason for not signing the film rights over to Disney. She remembered her somewhat painful childhood where she had a very close relationship with her father Travers Goff (Colin Farrell) even though his alcoholism often kept the family in constant turmoil. Her father's drinking nearly tore her mother (Ruth Morgan) apart. Travers' inspiration for Mary Poppins came in the form of an aunt who was supposed to help make her ailing father better, but the outcome led to why she was so cynical and uneager to let go of Mary Poppins. Will Disney be able to find a way to persuade her to sell the film rights? Will meeting Disney allow Travers to move into a new faze of her life?
In terms of questions, the movie posed an obvious one because moviegoers knew that "Mary Poppins" did make its way to the big screen in 1964; even though Travers wasn't entire fond of the finished product. What made "Saving Mr. Banks" all the more memorable was because it helped to find a way to flesh out the iconic Walt Disney into being more than a mere family man. Sure, the movie presented him as a charming man who was eager to make everyone leave his presence with a smile on their face, but it also showcased that he had a darker side where he was prone to a few vices and quick temper. One scene showcased Disney smoking in his office with the strict instruction from his staff that he wasn't to be interrupted until he was finished. Another scene also demonstrated that even in the happiest place on the Earth someone can lose their temper, even when they're trying so hard not to. Disney wasn't above that either as Travers' attitude wore on his patience on a few occasions. The only thing that seemed to take away from the movie itself was the numerous flashbacks into Travers' childhood. Sure, those scenes explained a lot as to why Travers behaved the way she did, but they sometimes took the audience away from key moments in the story. It's just a shame that Travers' own story wasn't made into a movie of its own, because there was potential to be had if the story was told correctly. Only time will tell if that's the case.
As for breakout performances, Hanks and Thompson led the pack as they managed to work very hard to bring their characters to life. Hanks gave his version of Disney a sense of whimsical charm and toughness as he fought very hard to keep his empire in check. He worked hard to keep his cool with Travers, but he allowed his frustration to show on a few occasions when his buttons were pushed one too many times. Hanks' strongest scene came towards the end of the film when he left Disney's trademark businessman charm and attempted to persuade Travers by providing some insight into his somewhat painful childhood. The scenes allowed viewers to feel sympathy for a man they'll never get to meet. Thompson, on the other hand, also provided the movie with a dynamic character who generated laughs and heartbreak as she struggled with feelings that she thought were long forgotten. Her strongest scene came towards the end at the film's premiere where she almost wordlessly let go of her pent up feelings as she watched the movie on the big screen. A definite honorable mention should go to Colin Farrell who delivered a touching and complex performance as a man lost to his own demons. It was also nice to see Farrell take on a different role as that of the affectionate but flawed father figure. He also had a nice rapport with Annie Rose Buckley, who played a younger version of Mrs. Travers. Their scenes together helped to provide some moments of levity and sadness when things took a turn for the worse. It's just a shame that they weren't told in a separate movie where everything could be properly fleshed out.
Verdict: Despite there being too many flashback scenes, Hanks and Thompson deliver memorable performances that helped to put their real life counterparts into a different perspective.
"Saving Mr. Banks" opened on December 13th and is currently in theaters everywhere. Check your local listings for times.
Movie Score: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Movie Rating: PG-13
1 Star (Mediocre)
2 Stars (Averagely Entertaining)
3 Stars (Decent Enough to Pass Muster)
4 Stars (Near Perfect)
5 Stars (Gold Standard)