by Terrance Mc Arthur
Special coupon for Dinuba Platinum Theatre at the end of this review.
Mrs. P. L. Travers (Emma Thompson), who created Mary Poppins, the magical British nanny, was Australian-born (as Helen Lyndon Goff), unmarried, had an estranged adopted son, and lived for many years with a female companion.
Walt Disney (Tom Hanks), whose mouse-spawned empire turned Travers’ creation into a magical, musical film that is revered and reviled for its sentimentality, was a crude-but-effective showman whose constant smoking led to his death.
Over a prickly period of ten days, Travers threw up objections to every proposal by the movie-making team (She didn’t want Dick Van Dyke, a musical, a moustache on the father, cartoon animation, or the color red) and Disney tried to woo her into agreeing to make the movie he had promised his daughters for 20 years. This is the primary time-period (with excursions into Mrs. Travers’ childhood and the movie premiere) of Saving Mr. Banks, a movie that portrays the clash of two strong wills in a manner that rivals the Shakespearean Much Ado About Nothing (a film version of which starred Thompson).
Thompson comes off as crustily British, looking down on America and all things American, determined to protect the characters she looks upon as family, and concerned about her financial position. Hanks plays Disney as an extroverted huckster who can’t imagine anybody not wanting to do things his way. Colin Farrell portrays Travers’ father, a trouble-ridden, alcoholic banker who died in the girl’s youth, and he gives a tender, wistful characterization, far from his usual brash, action-oriented roles. These performers give confident, winning portrayals, but the heart of this film lies in its supporting cast.
Bradley Whitford (The West Wing) as screenwriter Don DaGradi, and B. J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman as songwriting brothers Robert and Richard Sherman provide a softer counterpoint to the demanding Mrs. Travers, doing their darnedest to overcome her objections. There is a wonderful moment when the infectious music penetrates the Travers defenses and sends her singing and dancing across the room. Whether or not it really happened, it’s a great scene.
Paul Giamatti is charming as a mild-mannered driver who loves LA, loves all things Disney, and is far too sunny for the dour Mrs. Travers. Kathy Baker and Melanie Paxson excel as a gate keeping secretary and an office assistant who goes beyond normal duties when there are scenes to be acted out and songs to be sung.
Director John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side) saturates the air with Disneyness. People who want to see Walt as a Big Bad Wolf trying to devour a nice little lady will see that. Viewers who expect a nasty Brit being unreasonably obstructive towards a beloved American icon will find that, too. At any rate, it makes for some lively filmmaking.
Why would a film about the making of the Mary Poppins movie have a PG-13 rating? There is no nudity, no murders, and only a handful of h-words and d-words. However, there is attempted suicide, drinking, smoking situations, views of a dead body, and coughed-up blood.
When the credits start to roll, give yourself a few minutes to listen to an actual reel-to-reel tape recording (which Mrs. Travers insisted on for documentation purposes) of one of the sessions with the Disney creators, and you will see how closely the characterizations and words were recreated for the film.
No, I’m not going to explain the title of the movie. If you want to know why it’s called Saving Mr. Banks, go—see the movie—and enjoy the moment of discovery.
Saving Mr. Banks begins playing at Dinuba Platinum Theatres 6 this weekend. Showtimes can be found on their website. Platinum Theaters Dinuba 6 now proudly presents digital quality films in 2-D and 3-D with 5.1 Dolby digital surround sound to maximize your movie experience.