Release date: December 20, 2013
Directed by: John Lee Hancock
Written by: Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith
Starring: Tom Hanks, Emma Thompson, Bradley Whitford, B.J. Novak, Jason Schwarzman, and Colin Farrell
It's no secret that author P.L. Travers hated Disney's adaptation of her beloved "Mary Poppins" novels. The movie is, of course, a classic. But Travers hated it and her battle with Walt Disney and his creative team is the stuff of legend. This is why it's hard to see why Disney wanted to tell this story, because while "Saving Mr. Banks" is an entertaining and touching story, there are some pretty weird underlying messages if you read into it.
The film is really two movies combined to tell one story -- two very different movies at that. First there is the narrative set in 1961 in which P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) reluctantly travels to Los Angeles to meet with Walt Disney himself (Tom Hanks), as he tries to convince her to sign over the rights to adapt "Mary Poppins" into a film. This movie is lighthearted and funny. Hanks plays Walt with a playfulness that embodies what has come to be known about the great imagineer and Emma Thompson is excellent as the stubborn but haunted Travers.
Then there are the flashbacks to Traver's childhood that create an entirely different movie, this one a little more depressing and somber. It calls back 1907 when Travers and her family moved to Australia. It focuses on her family's struggle to deal with her father's gambling and alcoholism, which leads to some pretty grim plot points. Colin Farrell plays her father and his scenes with little P.L. Their scenes are touching, but ultimately its a starkly contrasting vibe that acts as an odd counterbalance for the rest of the flick.
It's a far better movie when it focuses on Travers and the bull-headed production meetings with Walt Disney's production team, which features Bradley Whitford as screenwriter Don DaGradi, and B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman as the musical team (and brothers) Robert and Richard Sherman. Their back and forth negotiations are at times hilarious. Travers had crazy rules. No red. No musical numbers and good heavens -- no animation.
But it's not that the flashback scenes aren't any good. It's just that it creates a bizarrely schizophrenic movie. As a whole, it is a heart warming, humorous, and enjoyable movie. But the back and forth between the narratives prove to be a little exhausting and emotionally confusing.
Considering the cast, it should be no surprise that the acting is top notch. Both Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks could be looking at Oscar nominations, but the rest of the cast is on top of their game as well. Novak and Schwartzman are fun to watch as they spark inspiration for the films' classic musical numbers. Whitford and Thompson have some great scenes together, and she has some pretty enjoyable scenes with Paul Giamatti, who plays her driver while she is in LaLa Land.
It really is a pretty great movie, but in the end, it's hard to tell what is the message behind "Saving Mr. Banks". Is it a film about letting go of all of your regrets about your past and learn to love what you had, or is it a Disney propaganda film boldly declaring that the great and powerful dream workers at Disney know what is good for you and your vision, so the quicker you let go of your personal hang ups, the quicker Disney can begin profiting on your sad childhood.
Rating: Rated PG-13 for thematic elements including some unsettling images
Running time: 2 hours 5 minutes
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