Movie Review: The Saving Grace of Saving Mr. Banks Will Be Sure Money At The Box Office
For those with imagination, adversity spawns excellence.
Saving Mr. Banks, due to be wide-released on Friday, December 20th, is sure to move anyone who has seen the clay feet of their personal hero, experienced the healing pain of self-wisdom, or triumphed over adversity. With absolutely nothing in common, except a little thing like overcoming their incredibly difficult childhoods to become world-class talents, Walt Disney and the very reluctant Mary Poppins' author, P.L. Travers, couldn't be more at odds.
Saving Mr. Banks, directed by John Lee Hancock, opens with sound lyrics from the original, however, now an enigmatic poem, and tells the true story of how these strong-willed celebrities managed to come to contractual terms and make a movie despite cultural, artistic, and personal differences. But don’t think for a minute this movie is a pedantic piece about negotiations and contracts; it feels more like a delightful romp with the imaginative genius behind the stellar movie-making Disney vehicle, albeit the more personal and accessible vehicle of the early '60's. Disney on Disney may not be strictly accurate, biographically speaking, but it certainly doesn't disappoint.
Mr. Tom Disney… Walt Hanks… a blurred distinction.
Do our name stars deliver? If you think you’ve already seen the best of Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson, think again. This film may not be able to compete with Saving Private Ryan or Sense and Sensibility for substance and theme, and the characters may not be as noble, but I for one, however, left the theater moved and gratified by the sheer elegance of the story of the lives of these real life rags-to-riches heroes. Through their inspired transformations into these complex characters, Hanks and Thompson put factual and arresting faces on a theme that never grows old for the American audience.
A-lister, Emma Thompson takes us into the straight-laced, distressed world of the unorthodox British writer, P.L. Travers, shows us how she arrived there, and then, returns us with a new sense of appreciation for the human spirit. Call it a "coming of age for middle-aged adults," when Travers, facing financial ruin, is compelled to release the object of her creation, Mary Poppins, in whom she has wrestled down the demons of her own adverse upbringing, to the cartoon-creating Disney.
Why does heartbreak seem to live hand in hand with creative expression? Through scenes where we see pages and pages of freshly written scripts flung out of a window, or a child's poem churlishly dismissed, we are reminded how much heart is worn on the sleeve of the artist. Mrs. Travers, desparate not to hand over her own precious creation, Mary Poppins, is no exception.
In this treatment, Hanks projects Disney's more redeemable traits, his inspiration, energy, tenacity and a supreme salesmanship based on intuition and compassion. Right up there with one of my favorite great scenes of persuasion—Arthur Jensen (Ned Beatty) reversing Howard Beale's (Peter Finch) outlook in Network—Hanks delivers the paradigm shifter when, on the heels of the fleeing Travers, he arrives at her doorstep in England and proceeds to change her unalterable mind.
From bittersweet innocence to softly seasoned altruism—a full cast of delicious talent.
The scene-stealing performance of young Annie Rose Buckley needs to be mentioned. She plays the young P.L. Travers opposite a prosaic Colin Farrell as her father, Travers Robert Goff. Despite the daunting presence of Disney production elements and a stellar cast, their poignant scenes may be the ones that linger in movie-goers' minds. Their scenes are breaths of fresh Australian county air, interwoven throughout the 1961 Hollywood Disney/Travers year of creative collaboration. While these sequences could easily have been propped up by the beautiful sets and cinematography alone, their heart wrenching performances sparkled like crown-topping jewels.
With a substantial repertoire of major roles already under his belt, Colin Farrel delivers an excruciating performance of the man that inspired his daughter's professional success and personal anguish. As Travers Goff, a man hopelessly at odds with his circumstances, yet, irrepressibly cavalier, Farrel's characterization gives us a falling hero brandishing his soulful poetry.
Another caveat of this film is the portrayal of the Disney talent, the Sherman brothers, played by Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak. Many have been enchanted by the results of the magical collaboration between lyricist and composer, such as the likes of Gilbert and Sullivan or Rogers and Hart, but few have witnessed or experienced that creative process. The Sherman scenes make us feel as if we're brushing elbows with the genius behind the Disney world of entertainment. We have insider seats to the talent and energy Disney nurtured in creative men such as these. The personification in multi-talented Schwartzman and Novak sets a light-hearted tone, that's finally, comedically, irresistible even to the undauntable Travers.
I would be remiss, not to give a special shout out to Paul Giamatti, for his sure-handed treatment of his character, Ralph, the driver. While he provides P.L. Travers with a metaphorical 'soft place to land,' he also reminds us that although there are quietly wonderful people in this world, they may be hard to find and harder to recognize.
"Winds in the east, mist coming in..." - Bert the Chimneysweep
In the original book, Mary Poppins is blown onto the doorstep of Mr. Banks by the east wind. In the Mary Poppins Disney movie, the Sherman brothers write these delightful lyrics for Dick Van Dyke (as Bert, the Chimneysweep), "Winds in the east, mist coming in, like something is brewing, about to begin." When uttered in Saving Mr. Banks, the words are pure poetry and take on a hauntingly soft tone. Ominous? Fortuitous? It's a change, however much needed, with the uncertainty of the inevitable.
I think the message resonating in the theaters showing Saving Mr. Banks is going to be received quite well. Along with Mrs. Travers, today's audience may notice a coming-to-terms with their own heroes or their own lives'. Whether we're struggling with the dual natures of our fathers or the dubiousness motives of world leaders, aren't we all wondering… where are the patriarchs in whose hands we are good?
Now, as never before, it can seem, we are very far from finding that longed-for hero that will turn the world around and set everything aright. In its struggle to keep intact the integrity of the flawed patriarch, Saving Mr. Banks explores hope and the wisdom of perspective. Hat’s off to Walt Disney Pictures for showing us the saving grace of imagination, and the wisdom of reality.
"This is what we storytellers do, we restore order with imagination," shares Tom Hank's Walt Disney in Saving Mr. Banks. It's just this necessary juxtaposition of the serious and sane with the frivolous and fanciful, that makes this film as lovely as it is meaningful.
P.L. Travers' childhood town in Australia
P.L. Travers' childhood home when her father passed away.