Starring: Emma Thompson (Stranger Than Fiction), Tom Hanks (Saving Private Ryan), Colin Farrell (Seven Psychopaths), Paul Giamatti (Sideways), Bradley Whitford (The Cabin in the Woods), Jason Schwartzman (Scott Pilgrim vs The World)
Director: John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side)
Writers: Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith
Runtime: 2 hours 5 minutes
Release Date: 29 November (UK), 13 December (US)
I have to be honest here: I don’t really have a strong connection to Mary Poppins. I’ve seen it, I think every child has at some point, but all I really remember are some of the songs and Dick Van Dyke’s accent. So, going into Saving Mr. Banks, I had no sense of nostalgia for the subject matter. But, much like how P. L. Travers is slowly drawn towards the magic of Walt Disney, this film knows how to draw you in.
How accurate Saving Mr. Banks is to the true events surrounding the creation of the Mary Poppins motion picture and P. L. Travers’ life is something I am not aware of. But in pure cinematic terms, this is a well-told if conventional tale. The film’s style is very classical in every way; it easily could have been made in the period in which it is set. It follows conventions and anyone with a keen eye will know where it ends up (the fact that the Mary Poppins film exists should give you a big clue). But it is the way it gets there that makes you care. The film tells two simultaneous stories: one of the creation of the film, and the other of Travers’ childhood. Both are deeply connected (sometimes too deeply at points), but both do an effective job of delving into Travers’ character and showing us who she is. I only wish that the film did a better job balancing between the two. The childhood half of the film is the weaker part, and for certain stretches of time the film focuses on it too much. But my main fault with the film is that it gets a little too melodramatic at points. The film is full of emotional events, tackling subjects often too risqué for Disney films such as alcoholism, but often I found them a little overplayed to milk for that Oscar moment. Considering how Travers spends most of her screen time complaining about the simplified and grandiose nature of Walt Disney’s films, this is somewhat ironic. But on the whole, this is exactly what you want from this type of picture. It’s just a pity that screenwriter Kelly Marcel’s next project is an adaptation of inexplicably popular mummy porn novel Fifty Shades of Grey. Good luck trying to make that seem dignified.
Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks. Two of the world’s most respected actors, sharing screen time together. It sounds like a wonderful idea, and in execution it certainly is. Thompson and Hanks do a wonderful job playing off each other, with Travers’ picky eccentricity clashing against Disney’s playful, endearing nature. The two light up the screen when on it separately, but truly make the movie shine when on together. And no, before you ask, the film doesn’t portray any of Disney’s alleged darker traits; considering the film was made by his own company, that’s not surprising. Their performances are wonderfully supported by a number of recognisable players. Bradley Whitford, Jason Schwartzman and B. J. Novak are terrific as screenwriter Don DaGradi and musicians The Sherman Brothers respectively; much like everyone that meets Travers, their buoyant personalities are perfectly played against her stubbornness. Paul Giamatti also does great work as the affable driver Ralph, whose naivety is both endearing and comical. But the big surprise here is Colin Farrell, who delivers one of his finest performances as Travers’ troubled father. Truly a much more challenging and different role for Farrell, he pulls it off wonderfully and balances that fine line between joyful and drunk.
As said before, Saving Mr. Banks has a very classic Hollywood feel to it, and that extends to the technical details. The cinematography is grand and colourful, but simple and effective as well. The production design is neat and sharp, and the costumes capture the sometimes-gaudy nature of 1960’s fashion well. But it is the music that stands out in my mind the most. Thomas Newman has done a wonderful job reworking many of the songs from Mary Poppins into new forms and they all work spectacularly, especially the new piano-based sombre version of “Chim Chim Cheree”.
Saving Mr. Banks is schmaltzy, but it’s that good type of schmaltz. It’s heart-warming, charming and full of wonderful performances. Whether you’re a fan of Mary Poppins or not, this is a film that can be enjoyed by anyone with a thirst for imagination.
FINAL VERDICT: 8.5/10