Tom Hanks plays the legendary Walt Disney in the story behind Mary Poppins, Saving Mr. Banks! But does the fact-based story shine or fade away? 411's Jeffrey Harris and Terry Lewis check in with their full reviews!
Directed By: John Lee Hancock Written By: Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith Runtime: 125 minutes MPAA Rating: PG-13
P.L. Travers - Emma Thompson Walt Disney - Tom Hanks Ginty - Annie Rose Buckley Travers Goff - Colin Farrell Margaret Goff - Ruth Wilson Ralph - Paul Giamatti Don DaGradi - Bradley Whitford Robert Sherman - B.J. Novak Richard Sherman - Jason Schwartzman Aunt Ellie - Rachael Griffiths Diarmuid Russell - Ronan Vibert Tommie - Kathy Baker Dollie - Melanie Paxson
Saving Mr. Banks is the near-perfect period piece for the holiday season. The film tells the story of the tumultuous journey of the classic Disney film version of Mary Poppins, based on the book by author P.L. Travers, to the screen. But the movie is one part period drama and one part biopic. The juxtaposition of author Travers (Thompson) collaborating with Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, California is juxtaposed by her early childhood when she went by the name of Ginty (Buckley). Ginty and her family are uprooted from the idyllic Maryborough to the dry and desolate Allora by her caring, but troubled father Travers Goff (Farrell). Goff is kind father who encourages Gintyís imaginative personality, but his imaginative, immature personality interferes with his work along with his troubles with alcohol.
As an adult woman, Travers is struggling to keep her head above water. Boxed in and implored by her agent Diarmuid (Vibert), Travers reluctantly agrees to go to Burbank in order to meet with Walt Disney Studios and likely sign over the film rights to her beloved Mary Poppins story. The uptight Travers of course is not experienced in the ways of Hollywood, and is very much steadfast in her decisions of how her work should be adapted on film. While her views on the opulence of Hollywood filmmaking are to some degree just and empathetic, Travers behavior is also downright belligerent. Itís almost as if Travers is setting up the production team of writer Don DaGrad (Whitford) and composing Sherman Bros. Robert (Novak) and Richard (Schwartzman) to fail and is unwilling to give them a fair chance. But, itís this overt moxie, confidence, and strength of character that make Thompsonís performance as Travers so memorable. Sheís force of nature, a veritable unstoppable force that collides with the immovable object that is Walt Disney (Hanks).
The parallel story of Traversí childhood as Ginty in Allora provides insight into what made Travers such a dreary, serious person. Her upbringing and realization of the darker sides of her loving fatherís personality are humbling. Buckleyís as the young Ginty is incredible as she portrays a child forced to grow up far sooner than she should as she also has to deal with her motherís (Wilson) growing depression and tenuous grip on sanity.
Tom Hanks playing role of the one and only Walt Disney, the first time Disney has ever been portrayed in a feature film. Itís an absolute gift that Hanks was ultimately the one to play the role, arguably a role he was born to play. To me, this is a more significant and prestigious role than Richard Phillips in Captain Phillips and deserving of far more recognition. Hanks imbues Disney very much so with a larger-than-life personality, but at the same time a certain shrewdness and appealing affability. Disney is very much a control freak and clashes with the equally strong personality of P.L. Travers. For those of you that prefer the scathing view of Disney as an anti-Semitic, racist, anti-worker, megalomaniac that is obsessed with cryogenic science, thatís not what Hanksí interpretation. Hancock and Hanks do show some of Disneyís flaws, his closet chain-smoking and drinking as well as his controlling nature over his work, but heís no monster. What many people often forget throughout the legacy of Walt Disney is that he was an artist himself. He is a storyteller, not unlike P.L. Travers. And of course, not all artists and different visions can but heads.
This story really encompasses the process of adapting a piece of literature to film in the scenes set in the 1960ís. While Iím sure screenwriters Sue Smith and Kelly Marcel embellished quite a bit on certain events and likely fabricated more than few, there is some startlingly accuracy to Traversí sessions that were recorded on tape with the Disney production crew. It makes highly evident that film and literature are two different mediums. Ultimately, Travers took a strict stance against the Disney in real life. Though, due to her rather stubborn nature, one might believe she did begrudgingly like the final product and she would never admit as such. Regardless, one must remember many film classics based on literature were ones the author didnít care for. Saving Mr. Banks does at least offer some perspective, that despite changes to the original text, a film adaptation can still be considered classic. While J.R.R. Tolkien is not around to say otherwise, one can imagine he probably wouldnít have approved over some the changes in The Lord of the Rings film trilogy.
Besides the amazing performances by Hanks and Thompson, other standouts include Whitford, Novak, and Schwartzman as Disney Legends DaGradi, Robert and Richard Sherman. Paul Giamatti also has a featured role as Traversí friendly, eager-to-please limo driver, Ralph. Itís a relationship that eventually shows the warmer and less dreary aspects of Traversí personality. Also, in one of his strongest roles ever is Colin Farrell as Travers Goff, the man who later inspired the character of Mr. Banks. Farrell can sometimes be a hit-and-miss performer. Heís generally struggled to really break into A-list status, and whenever it seems heís poised for a comeback, he comes crashing back down. This is a fine role and performance for him as the flawed, but beloved father of Helen Lyndon Goff aka P.L. Travers.
This is an amazing film by director John Lee Hancock that finally wipes the slate clean of what happened with The Alamo. The movie is very well paced at 125 minutes, and he knows how to give the later moments set in the 1960ís just the right amount of humor without it overstaying its welcome. He wisely injects the story with, as Mary Poppins and P.L. Travers say, ďa spoonful of sugar.Ē
The 411: Saving Mr. Banks is a wonderful movie that sheds light on the creative process of getting Mary Poppins, but also the formative years of young P.L. Travers and what influenced her stories of Mary Poppins and the Banks family. Hanks and Thompson are more than worthy of awards consideration for their roles here, bringing their respective roles of amazing artists and storytellers to life, showing why they were such geniuses and strong personalities but also human beings with the same faults and foibles as the rest of us.