Saving Mr. Banks Review 
Posted by Terry Lewis on 12.20.2013
Disney chuck their hat into the awards season nominees with a bio-pic covering the making of Mary Poppins, with Tom Hanks as Old Walt himself as it's selling point. But does Disney's own effort at themselves stand up to their peers? Or does it leave them open for admonishment from their greed corporate way critics? 411's own Goofy Terry Lewis finds out
Emma Thompson - Pamela Travers Tom Hanks - Walt Disney Paul Giamatti - Ralph Bradley Whitford - Don DaGradi Jason Schwartzman - Richard M. Sherman B.J. Novak - Robert B. Sherman Melanie Paxson - Dolly Colin Farrell - Robert Travers Ruth Wilson - Margaret Travers
With Oscar and award season in general rolling around swiftly, it's time we had some decent contenders pop up on the big screen. One of the most looked forward to is Disney tackling the House of Mouse creator himself, Walt Disney, in a bio pic aimed at the hardship in bringing the live action classic Mary Poppins to life through his relationship with the book's author. Not sold? Okay. Tom Hanks as Disney? Bit more? A dying Colin Farrell? Sold. Then we'll begin...
After being hunted for 20 years for the film rights to her book 'Mary Poppins', broke author Pamela Travers (Emma Thompson, Men In Black 3) eventually caves when the offer also includes final script edit amongst other demands. The pursuer of her book? None other that Walt Disney (Hanks, Captain Phillips). Despite Disney's friendly demeanour, terrific production team and genuine enthusiasm for the project, Travers doesn't think Disney and his staff 'get' the source material. Her mind is cast back to her upbringing in rural Australia by her ill, alcoholic but free spirited father (Farrell, Dead Man Down), the inspiration behind the Mary Poppins character, Mr. Banks.
Thompson doesn't do poor performances. She launches herself into Travers with abandon in a memorable turn as the tutting overly-British lady who doesn't agree at all with her work being taken away and “ruined”. Her prim and properness against the extremely bright and happy Americans is the start of a fantastic comedic drumming for the most part of the film. Hanks' Disney isn't a let down either. He captures the look rather well and some of the aspects the public is used to of old Walt. Despite him working in his office for the most part, the two's meetings and exchanges whether they are serious or played for laughs are a real enjoyment. These two fine actors get their characters and play up to them.
I usually like Paul Giamatti (12 Years A Slave) but here he's a bit too standard compared to some of his fimography history. As the taxi driver who turns Travers around, he doesn't impress. Much more fun was the simply gorgeous trio of Bradley Whitford (The Cabin In The Woods), Bored To Death'sJason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak (The Office) as Don DaGradi and the Sherman brothers. These three real life highly respected creative musicians and writers put together the Mary Poppins film and their interactions with Travers are a hoot. She gives out and admonishes everything they do at the start and they can't do anything as it's her way or highway. Given these three cast members have a stellar history as singers/musicians too, they totally get their parts and their enthusiastic performances are so catchy, you can't help but join in when they perfect “Let's Go Fly A Kite”.
The hidden highlight here is Farrell. Whilst being based on Travers' real life father, we are treated to the disintegration of a man after he's build up to probably the most likable father type ever seen in cinema. Granted said father does snap menacingly at his wife after his drunken charade he plays with his daughter is disturbed and embarasses himself at a public function, but he keeps up this overly likable near-facade of a free spirit, wrapped in a Disney prince type. Y'know, the dashing prince with the dark hair and big and tall and strong with that impossible place quiff at the front. Most important of all, his turn as Banks reminds us that Colin Farrell can bloody well act and he is superb here. A return to form after a few years on the fringes.
If you hadn't noticed from my gushing to the above cast, this is Oscar Porn at probably it's most entertaining and dare I say fun. The draw is clearly Hanks' Disney but whilst entertaining it may not get the full runtime you want to see. Stunningly, Disney actually refer back to some of old Walt's dirty habits (Nothing too severe but smoking is in there) for a usually cleanly represented icon and they challenge his history by his hoovering up other people's work and flogging it as his own through other media. Thompson doesn't do standard and her school teacher-esque tutting, demands for these Americans to treat her character properly in her way and her hatred towards the fun in the Californian fun is riveting. She brings a character who you could hate for being too snarky into a sympathetic lady as other people are playing about with her own book she put so much time and effort into. For an award contender bio pic, it maybe be a bit too happy but we have Farrell playing an alcoholic, advanced influenza sufferer in small town, turn of the 1900's Australia. If that's not a shoe-in for him and Saving Mr. Banks to claim a few gongs with that subject matter on top of his fantastic performance, nothing will.
Actually saying that, it's perhaps the film's drawback. For the most part, Saving Mr. Banks is in a jolly tone, barring one or two slips with Traver's father in flashback. There's plenty of comedic quips and exchanges and musical performances to keep you entertained. Then comes along the fall of Mr. Banks in a slow, grim death and a reconciliation between Disney and Travers after a squiffy period. To say this sticks out like a sore thumb is an understatement. It always was going to be, but I feel a bit more of a build to the two creators falling out and seeing more of Mr. Banks falling sicker whilst dealing with his rampant alcoholism to keep him relatively pain free would have added to the emotional impact. Actually considering it's over a two hour run time, a better edit would have been appropriate to get points across quicker. We'd lose a lot of the comedic beats probably, but ultimately the filmmakers should realise this story isn't all fun and games. Less of the chest thumping in how amazing Disney would have gone along way too as it's too pro-Disney. Yeah, I get that it's a Disney take on Disney and it's to be expected, but they could have done something to acknowledge some of the aspects they are perhaps not too proud of and make them feel more human.
Refreshingly, the core theme of creator owned work gets both sides of the story. Travers just wants her work to be given the proper care and attention she thinks it deserves. Not that she wanted a big screen adaptation of Mary Poppins in the first place but if they are going to do it, they're going to do it her way. It's a breathe of fresh air, especially in this day and age, of artists and authors whoring out their properties for the biggest dollar only to see fans moan over their bastardization and for them to sit in the corner and shrug their shoulders. Take World War Z for example. I won't say I know Max Brooks' thoughts on the unrelated film to his book but for him to not come out and say nothing is a bit cowardly in my opinion. With Travers though, she is someone to get behind. In all fairness, Disney makes a point of admitting that he does take other people's properties but he gives them more exposure, rewards creators handsomely and admits at some points in his early career, when he was broke and peniless, he had the chance to make a small bit of money to sign over the rights to Mickey Mouse. Through his persistance, we end up where we are with Disney today but it shows Disney is not far off Travers. Coupled with her father issues, it's a brilliant character portfolio as she vainly fights the inevitable tide.
The 411: Rather excellent in places, the only thing I'd say holding Saving Mr. Banks back is a too manufactured, “everything we do is great isn't it?”, backslapping exercise before we cut to the overly dark demise of the titular Banks. Yet three worthy performances and an admittedly magical spin of Disney covering their creator is a treat. Add in the creative right theme and a whimsical and ridiculously fun sing-a-long in places and it's a real treat. With Disney taking on a real grown up, serious film to place in front of their peers and critics and saying “Hey we can make proper films too”, you can't argue that they haven't succeeded.