Instant Classic – For a conglomerate like Disney, there’s not much to do in film that they haven’t already done in some way or fashion. Sure, it hasn’t always been perfect, but as they grow on the animation side with and without Pixar, the live-action side of the business gets left behind. Or does it? Reality is, The Walt Disney Studios division of films, otherwise known as Buena Vista, brought in an estimated $1.5 billion last year according to BoxOfficMojo.com. That’s good for third, only behind Sony and Warner Bros. So, for those thinking Disney is only in the mix for the animated films they feature, look again and go watch “Saving Mr. Banks,” a live-action film worthy to be on any ‘Best of 2013’ list.
The story here…tells the life of Mary Poppins author Pamela “P.L.” Travers and her difficult decision to sign over the screen rights of her beloved stories to Disney. And back in 1961, her negotiations were with Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) himself, who had promised his daughters he would bring their favorite childhood character Mary Poppins to the big screen. And when Disney made a promise to his girls, he apparently stuck by it. So, naturally when he finally got Travers to come to Burbank, CA to hear their ideas for the film adaption of her book, it was a big win. Sparing no expense, he brought Travers in to oversee and help with the script. The idea was she would add in her own ideas and officially sign-off on the project, but this would be no easy task. In fact, it would be quite the opposite given how attached Travers was to her own books. Through a series of flashbacks, we see Travers growing up in Queensland, Australia worshiping her father, which wasn’t always easy. And through that, we start to understand more of why her father was the inspiration for the story’s patriarch, Mr. Banks, and why it was so hard for her to let go.
Acting out – It’s no secret to anyone that knows me that I only went to see this film because Tom Hanks was in it. As my second favorite actor, I will watch him in anything and here had no idea what to expect. That may surprise some, but Hanks typically does not take a back seat to anyone. In fact, out of all his accolades, this is the first where he is tagged as a best supporting actor. Not saying this is my official prediction, but if nominated for an Oscar, don’t be surprised if he walks away the winner. Because he was great in limited moments here, which is all you need to win a few awards, especially when it’s doing something we are not accustomed to from him. Same for Colin Farrell, who was given the role as Travers Robert Goff, Pamela’s alcoholic yet loving father. What a performance, and truly one I could see getting the nod over Hanks given what Ferrell did with it. So, we’ll see, but my hope is people will start to notice Ferrell as more than just a face after this role. That said, this film would be nothing without the amazing Emma Thompson, who played Pamela Travers. In addition to her uncanny ability to steal every scene she is in, she is so easy to watch on the big screen. And here she balanced her character’s emotions well, showing what a troubled childhood can do to even a success like Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers. I was impressed, even knowing what she is capable of, which is probably the best compliment I could give.
Intelligent eye – A film like “Saving Mr. Banks” will often get passed over for everything but acting and usually for good reason. But, here I think that path might change after some extremely useful and energetic filmmaking by director John Lee Hancock. Using the period of the film to his benefit, Hancock managed to make this feel like an older film through some unexpected, yet brilliant transitions. That was a nice surprise and a good decision for the story written. Penned by Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith, the script was said to center around the development of the 1964 Walt Disney Studios film “Mary Poppins,” but as we found out through Emma Thompson’s character, it was more than that the longer you watched. And Hancock made sure you not only knew that, but felt it through crafty camera angles which although subtle, were crucial to the overall enjoyment and understanding of the film. So even though I was not a fan of his last film, “The Blind Side,” I do respect his ability to draw you in to the story which he did with ease here making this one of my dark horses come Oscar time for several categories.
Bottom Line – I would bet a lot of people will pass right on by “Saving Mr. Banks” for what they think is a better choice at the box office this holiday season. That’s a mistake if you ask me, given how genuine this story and film is overall.
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