The magic of the movies sometimes takes a fair bit of elbow grease and a lot of compromise to make things happen the way they are supposed to. "Saving Mr. Banks" takes us behind the scenes of the making of one of the most beloved films in the Disney canon and how it came close to actually never happening.
When Walt Disney’s (Tom Hanks) daughters begged him to make a movie of their favorite book, P.L. Travers’ (Emma Thompson)"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 comes up against a curmudgeonly, uncompromising writer who has absolutely no intention of letting her beloved magical nanny get mauled by the Hollywood machine. However, as the books stop selling and money grows short, Travers reluctantly agrees to go to Los Angeles to hear Disney's plans for the adaptation. For those two short weeks in 1961, Walt Disney pulls out all the stops. Armed with imaginative storyboards and chirpy songs from the talented Sherman brothers (Jason Schwartzman & B.J Novak), Walt launches an all-out onslaught on P.L. Travers, but the prickly author doesn't budge. It is only when he reaches into his own childhood that Walt discovers the truth about the ghosts that haunt her, and why he is the right man to share her unexpectedly personal story with the world.
An interesting but all be it bloated experience, "Saving Mr. Banks" is a nice little bio picture that allows for a little insight into one of the most beloved films ever made but ultimately doesn't bring anything overly fresh to the table. Director John Lee Hancock who is an experienced yet unremarkable directorial hand, does well enough getting the story from point A to point B. While in many moments of the film the production design was simply immaculate, there were other small errors that any classic film or Disney lover will probably be able to spot. The script from the writing team of Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith was a little too bloated as it tried to fit as much story as it possibly could into the actual running of the film. Along with some pacing and editing problems it was hard to connect with anyone aspect of the story, as the flashback sequences that gave us P.L. Travers (or Mrs as she prefers to be called) back story have a habit of dragging. Much of the film has sequences that didn't serve an ultimate purpose and the same story could have been told while trimming some of the excess fat despite some solid performances from the cast.
To his credit, Tom Hanks didn't white wash the character of Walt Disney making him pleasant enough, but also a little standoffish and imperfect despite this being a Disney film. He does manage to capture a sense of no nonsense joviality that works pretty well for the role. Emma Thompson as P.L. Travers is in full on scene chewing mode as the very firm and very proper British lady who has her guard up against the gaudy American's who want to put silly songs and animation in to her story. It's not a bad thing as her stern energy plays quite well opposite all these characters and the setting of Disney World and studios as she struggles against the joviality that is infused in her surroundings. B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman are fine as the Sherman Brothers who are begrudgingly taking her "creative notes" along with Bradley Whitford as screenwriter Don Dagradi.
The most memorable all be it understated performance in the film actually comes from Paul Giamatti as Travers' driver, Ralph. As her only confidant during her time in Hollywood they have a nice and ultimately sweet chemistry as their back and forth was easily the most compelling and heartfelt thing in the film while Colin Farrell and Ruth Wilson in the flashbacks never connected as their sequences were just a little too bloated and needed to be trimmed in order to be taken seriously.
Picture and sound quality are top notch on the Blu-Ray and the special features include Deleted Scenes, a historical look back in "The Walt Disney Studios: From Poppins to Present" and a rousing musical tribute to Richard Sherman as the cast and crew break out in song on the final day of shooting.
At the end of the day, "Saving Mr. Banks" is a nice little slice of history for any film historians and Disneyphiles out there. How much history, is not a debate I will engage in, but had this film been trimmed from a large 125 minutes into something a little more neat and tidy, we'd be a lot less inclined to nitpick over what was still a pretty nice story that deserved to be told.
3 out of 5 stars.
"Saving Mr. Banks" is now available for rent on DVD, Blu-Ray and On Demand from all major providers. You can also find it available for purchase from all major retailers like HMV, amazon.ca and iTunes.