21 October 2013

Movie Review: Saving Mr. Banks


Saving Mr. Banks
2013, 125mins, PG
Director: John Lee Hancock
Writer: Kelly Marcel
Cast includes: Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Colin Farrell, Ruth Wilson, Paul Giamatti, Bradley Whitford 
UK Release Date: 29th November 2013

1964’s “Mary Poppins” has passed enthusiastically from generation to generation; its blend of infectious music and spirited moralising concretely embodying the live action ethos of Disney Studios and its founding father. The movie’s creation makes for an interesting story in its own right, encompassing a lengthy dialogue between Walt Disney and Poppins’ creator P.L Travers, the latter insistent that her super-nanny had no place at the House of Mouse. Now in the hands of John Lee Hancock (2009’s overrated “The Blind Side”) the relationship between Travers and Disney has been gifted a traditional Hollywood dramatization, incorporating in thespians like Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks to help maximise the picture’s business potential. However despite a workmanlike first hour, “Saving Mr. Banks” actually morphs into a legitimately heartfelt work before the finish, rooting itself in a thematically satisfying direction. It helps that Hancock has amassed a crew of dependable craftsmen and talented performers to bring the tale to life, but one cannot overlook the rewardingly sincere catharsis Kelly Marcel’s screenplay eventually accomplishes.

Threatened by financial strife, author P.L Travers (Emma Thompson) is forced to consider selling her famed “Mary Poppins” character to Disney. Long having resisted the notion, Travers embarks to Los Angeles where she meets screenwriter Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford), musical maestros the Sherman Brothers (B.J Novak & Jason Schwartzman) and Walt himself (a boisterous Tom Hanks).  The film-makers attempt to nullify as many of Travers’ concerns as possible, but she constantly finds issue with their proposed plans, refuting attempts to bring songs or animation into the mix.  As the creative process powers forward, Travers begins to reflect on her life growing up in Australia, and the effect her whimsical but troubled father (Colin Farrell) had on her literary creations. Spying a point of connection, Walt begins to try and accommodate Travers’s familial history through their forthcoming cinematic collaboration.
“Saving Mr. Banks” looks terrific, whether it be traversing a nostalgic 1960s L.A or exploring vast Australian environments. Cinematographer John Schwartzman has a traditional style, but his lighting and frame compositions are rich enough to render “Saving Mr. Banks” positively decadent, complimenting the film’s tender heart with slight but gorgeous photography. The entire enterprise boasts a pure and hopeful tonality, Hancock amassing an experienced team (including composer Thomas Newman in hyper twee mode) to help flesh out a rose-tinted and imaginative family feature. It’s hard to accurately summarise how genuine this representation is (we know Walt Disney wasn’t all smiles behind the scenes) but it’s still a very pleasant and capably sculpted slice of entertainment


It takes Hancock’s direction and Marcel’s narrative a little time to escape the cruxes of TV Special plotting, but when “Saving Mr. Banks” picks up an editorial rhythm and sense of big-screen grandeur it clings on firmly; using organically inserted flashbacks (boasting a fabulous Colin Farrell) to flesh out the British author marvellously. Of course Thompson’s forceful and reservedly warm performance works wonders, but Marcel’s careful attention to uncomfortable childhood recollections really sets the central dynamic alight. “Saving Mr. Banks” uses the enchanting and heart-breaking bond between a father and his daughter to help underline the unifying power of storytelling, and the distinct coping mechanisms it can provide. It’s amazing how successfully the movie comments on this by the end, especially given the perfunctory note with which proceedings open.
Hancock is a director prone to both cloying sentiment and pacing misjudgements, but on this occasion neither offends egregiously. “Saving Mr. Banks” is certainly not a quick sit, but its joyous personality and celebratory nature help immunise audiences to potential boredom, with Thompson’s magnetic command of the screen forcing their attention to stay interlocked with the narrative. Similarly whilst the picture is undeniably fluffy, it doesn’t cross the line into schmaltz, even if the upbeat portrayal of Disney management renders it a suspect historical re-enactment.

There’s nothing radical to observe here (aside from the stunning contributions of Farrell and Thompson), but “Saving Mr. Banks” is both credibly realised and well-intentioned. Fans of “Mary Poppins” will revel in Marcel’s unabashed adoration for the picture, whilst its blend of tear-jerking and humour is liable to encourage healthy box-office and potential awards consideration; even if the ways it chooses to extract such responses are inherently generic. It’s a sweet and sincere helping of confection, enlivened by sparkly stars and a reassuring message on the vitality of escapism.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2013


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