Friday, December 13, 2013

Women and Children First: “Saving Mr. Banks”

Movie Review by Jack Silbert
If you have a well-worn Mary Poppins DVD at home, and chapter-book-reading kids, Saving Mr. Banks may be the perfect movie for your family. Familiarity with the material and a certain maturity level will certainly come in handy. If that’s not quite the case with your children, you may want to hire a sitter—ideally one with a flying umbrella—and check it out yourselves.

The film’s PG-13 rating really fits, as it won’t be of interest to the littlest kids, but also might not be compelling for adults seeking a very sophisticated time at the movies. In classic Disney fashion (and it actually sometimes feels as if this was made in an earlier, more innocent era), Saving Mr. Banks features clear, straightforward storytelling and crisp, clean visuals. That’s all terrific for this film’s middle-grade sweet spot.

Emma Thompson as P.L. Travers
The early going is on the slow side and may bore some younger viewers. (Likewise, later scenes delving into psychological motivations will likely go over their heads.) We meet P.L. Travers, uptight and extremely protective author of the Mary Poppins books, which Walt Disney had doggedly attempted to adapt into a film for two decades. As Travers, Emma Thompson gets her most prominent role in years and doesn’t squander the opportunity, even if the script keeps her Grinch-like a little too long before (spoiler alert!) her heart grows three sizes. That there’s more than a touch of late-period Julie Andrews in Thompson is a nice bonus here.

Thankfully for kids not so interested in the machinations of obtaining movie rights, there are frequent flashbacks to Travers’s youth in Australia, and her poignant relationship with her dad. He is played with gusto by Colin Farrell, whose waist seems to have grown three sizes as well.

Tom Hanks as Walt Disney
Back in the present (well, 1961), Tom Hanks really anchors Saving Private Ryan, whoops, I mean Mr. Hanks, wait, no, it’s Mr. Banks. If you’re hoping for an exposé of Walt Disney, look elsewhere. This is a Walt Disney Pictures production, after all. Hanks plays the public persona of Uncle Walt—kindly, supportive, surprisingly down-to-earth—and Hanks is absolutely perfect in the role.

Very strong casting keeps this film from getting too saccharine or simplistic. It says a lot that Paul Giamatti is playing a limo driver. Also adding a lot of zest is Jason Schwartzman as one half of the Poppins Sherman brothers songwriting team, with The Office’s B.J. Novak. The pair also provides a convenient way to get a lot of fun music into the movie, as we witness familiar songs being written and reworked.

B.J. Novak (left) and Jason Schwartzman
as the Sherman brothers
How accurate is it all? We can all read the Travers biography if we really want to know. (The kids, meanwhile, might be interested in Travers’s original Poppins books.) It’s kind of “meta” in Saving Mr. Banks that Travers rails against Walt for white-washing stories, inside a movie that might be doing a bit of the same. But when all is said and done, it’s a very satisfying film with a lot of heart, some truly affecting scenes, and much unbridled joy. So do we really mind if they added a spoonful of sugar?

1 comment:

  1. It's the chemistry between these two inner children that makes Saving Mr. Banks so special because Hanks and Thompson understand this is where the drama lies, in the hidden folds of adult fear, and they turn it into a cuddle toy of content.
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