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Bank on Disney – A review of Saving Mr. Banks
Title: Saving Mr. Banks
Production Company: Disney
Run Time: 125 minutes
Director: John Lee Hancock
Stars: Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Colin Farrell, Annie Rose Buckley, Paul Giamatti
Summary: P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) is the Ebenezer Scrooge of the film world as she fights with Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) who yearns to bring Travers’ Mary Poppins character to life for the big screen.
This movie is ideally timed for the holiday season, given the stark parallels between this tale and A Christmas Carol, albeit without the Holiday tie-in.
P.L. Travers was an author who was born around the turn of the 19th century. In flashbacks throughout the movie, we see her in her younger years as she watches her vibrant father (Colin Farrell) drink himself to oblivion. The titular character, Mr. Banks, is based on him.
We are all a product of our upbringing and Travers grows up to write a series of marvelous children’s novels centering around her umbrella wielding nanny Mary Poppins, a character loosely based on her visiting Aunt Ellie.
As with many authors (Walt Disney included, we come to find out), Travers dotes on her own creation and cannot abide the thought that Walt might ‘Disney-fy’ her character. But she has reached a point close to destitution and agrees to travel stateside from her British home to meet with the man behind the mouse.
Almost immediately, she takes a dislike, not only to the writing team on her story, but with America as a whole, it seems. Having grown up in the stark wilderness of Australia and subsequently settling in England, she seems to find American culture barbaric by comparison.
She virtually browbeats the script writer Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford) into stupefied submission and disdains the Sherman Brothers musical team. And she stands up to the genial Walt every chance she gets and makes it very clear that, unless he capitulates to her every unreasonable demand, that he will lose the rights to make this charming musical a reality.
Listening to the music and the story come to life sheds new light on the creation of this timeless movie classic. This is this year’s Hugo, a magical look at the behind the scenes making of an iconic piece of cinematic history that officially turns 50 next year.
But the real charm of the tale is seeing Thompson playing a stoic character who must be wooed into allowing the team to bring Mary Poppins to life. This character and the situations she writes about are so much a part of her history that she struggles within herself to see the vision that Walt Disney wants to create.
Paul Giamatti plays Ralph, Travers America chauffeur who has a story all his own to share with Travers. It is a tale that manages to move this relentless woman, if only a bit. But it might be all she needs to relinquish part of what she holds on to so tightly throughout the story.
Annie Rose Buckley, who plays Travers in her childhood years, is perfectly cast as the girl who would grow up to become the jaded Mrs. Travers (as she prefers to be called). The love she has for her father is strongly evident as she tries desperately to hope that things will work out for her family despite increasingly declining odds.
Every part of this story is solid through and through and even though the main character is a decidedly unlikable old biddy, there are few if any who can withstand the Disney charm for long. And there isn’t a finer actor than Tom Hanks to bring Walter Elias Disney back to life for the cinema of today.
This tale isn’t for little children, though. There are strong thematic elements that really young children might find difficulty assimilating. Of course, if they haven’t seen Mary Poppins, yet, that would be a great place to start. This film is PG-13 for very definite reason.
There aren’t likely to be many characters more acerbic than P.L. Travers who can frustrate the likes of a genial man like Walt Disney. I give Saving Mr. Banks 4-1/2 out of 5 stars.