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Saving Mr. Banks Review

Updated on March 23, 2014
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Retelling history can be a tricky subject. After all, there are always three versions of any story: Your story, my story and the truth. Saving Mr. Banks is a unique specimen in terms of biopics. The film is a biopic told by Disney - about Disney. Specifically, the story is about how Walt Disney convinced author P.L. Travers to allow the Disney studio to make the film version of Mary Poppins. Travers was very reluctant to have her books adapted by Disney. Saving Mr. Banks shows the behind the scenes process mainly from the pre-production standpoint. Travers works with the writers and the Sherman Brothers as Travers and the people Disney all conflict on how they believe the story should be told. Very early on, we can see differences in the two parties' personalities. Travers hates made-up words and insists on being refereed to as "Mrs. Travers." Walt Disney is a little more aloof and Disney insists on referring to people by their first names. But there is also a second story as flashbacks relate the story of Travers's troubled childhood which inspired the books.

With that premise, the concern for many viewers may be clear: Disney is going to rewrite history to be as flattering as possible. I can not comment on whether or not this movie is 100% factual, but the good news is that it does not come off as if Disney is trying to rewrite history, but rather just tell the story of the making of the film. Okay, without giving anything away, there is one bit of history rewriting, toward the end of the movie. Still, this is not two hours of Disney patting itself on the back for making a great movie. This is the story of two very strong personalities who are trying to tell a story that is important to them. But they both have different visions. Even though Uncle Walt is a central character in the movie, he never comes off like someone who has been put on a pedestal. Although he comes off as a good man, he is still depicted as having feet of clay. He misinterprets the books. He can be a little bullheaded at times and even does a few dishonest things to Travers.

Putting aside the famous people and movie this film tells the story of, this is an interesting look at the creative process of adapting a film. How much is one willing to sacrifice of their own work? Do the people making the film understand the source material? The film shows both sides making compromises, both Disney and Travers figure out ways to obtain what they want. Plus, it is fun watching the creative process of the Sherman Brothers creating the iconic songs from Mary Poppins.

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Tom Hanks is a great choice for Walt Disney. Okay, he is not the spitting image of the man (a matter not helped by the fact that photos of the real man are played over the end credits) and some audiences may have a hard time looking past Hanks and seeing Disney. But in the same vein, it is hard to imagine anyone else having the same combination of such a kindhearted, fatherly figure and being a good businessman. Watching Hanks's performance, I can easily believe this is someone who had the magic to create Mickey Mouse, but also the ability to make tough business decisions. Although it is a quick scene, one of the best moments in the movie is when Walt confides that he went through a similar experience in deciding whether or not to sell Mickey Mouse.

Although I know very little about the real P.L. Travers, I still found Emma Thompson's performance as the writer very engaging. She is very strong willed about her material. She can be stubborn at times, but overall comes off as someone who is just that passionate about her work. Her delivery is very regal, but she is also very quirky and eccentric - such as putting a Mickey Mouse doll given to her in the corner as if she is punishing it. Surprisingly, the other performances are very good as well. Paul Giamitti plays a kindhearted limo driver to whom Travers warms up. The Sherman Brothers and the screenwriter are entertaining characters who have to figure out ways to handle Travers's over-the-top personality. I really appreciate that these characters have a lot of non-verbal exchanges - often relying on their facial expressions to tell the story of how they feel.

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As mentioned in the synopsis, the film does tell a parallel story. The scenes centering about Travers' childhood are spread throughout the story. Admittedly at first, these were a little jarring as they felt as though they were interrupting the story. Not to mention, at first, they felt like a completely different movie. However, by the end, they definitely paid off. These scenes give an insight not only into Travers as a person, but also why the story of Mary Poppins is so important to her. We see why details that seem so insignificant - such as Mr. Banks being clean-shaven - matter so much to Travers. Although his performance has not been one of the big selling points of the film, Colin Farrell is very exciting as the father. He can be very theatrical and makes his share of mistakes but at the end of the day, he cares for his family. Even if these scenes strike more of an emotional chord, this is a pretty lighthearted movie. And there are also some comedic moments. Now do not expect a laugh-out-loud, joke-a-minute film like A Fish Called Wanda, but there are some genuinely funny moments.

Like most movies Disney releases under its own brand, Saving Mr. Banks is technically a family film. I say "technically" because its stance is kind of borderline. This movie definitely feels like it was written more for adults. Just the premise is something that would interest more adults than children - a behind the scenes look at a movie. It is hard for me to speak for children, but I would imagine most young children would be interested in watching Mary Poppins as opposed to the making of Mary Poppins. I think older children and teenagers might appreciate the more grown-up delivery of this film. The best way to describe this film is written for adults, but safe enough to show to children. At the same time, the movie does not completely pull its punches: Travers's father coughs up blood, Walt Disney smokes (Okay, he butts out a cigarette, but the point is clear). Bottom line: If the youngsters want to see this one, let them.

Overall, Saving Mr. Banks is an absolute treat. As a family friendly retelling of a chapter in Disney's history, the film is a fascinating look at the events - without being too self-congratulatory. As a film about film making, it is still does a great job of showing the creative process in action. The film's status as a kid's movie may be on the fence, but if your kids do not want to see it, or if you do not have kids, see it for yourself.

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