‘Saving Mr. Banks’ Review

Published 10 months ago by , Updated October 17th, 2014 at 9:25 pm,

Saving Mr. Banks Reviews starring Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson 2013 Saving Mr. Banks Review

This is a solid bet for that feel-good family film, despite the fact that it contains some heavier (but worthwhile) dramatic elements.

Saving Mr. Banks looks beneath the shiny and cutesy veneer of Disney’s iconic Mary Poppins movie adaptation to examine the true-life story of Poppins creator P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) and her tumultuous relationship with Walt Disney (Tom Hanks). After decades of fighting to keep the rights to her character out of Disney’s hands, low finances at last force Travers to venture to Hollywood to make a deal with the relentless mogul.

However, Travers will not sign-off the rights to Poppins without first taking meticulous measure of what Walt has planned for his film. When she first sees the happy-go-lucky movie about Mr. Banks and his family, the author is outraged; but slowly and surely a levee in her mind begins to crack, and waves of bad childhood memories begin to make Mrs. Travers wonder what Mary Poppins really means, and whether or not the world should see her painted in the light of the Disney brand.

The latest film from The Blind Side director John Lee Hancock, Saving Mr. Banks is a tender and well-envisioned piece of historical memoir, which manages to deconstruct – and then, reconstruct – an iconic character and film in a way that is at once truthful and mature but also moving and reverent.

Colin Ferrell in Saving Mr. Banks 2013 Saving Mr. Banks Review

Colin Farrell in ‘Saving Mr. Banks’

Hancock creates a unique blend in this film. Scenes from the past of Travers’ childhood on a prairie farm are dreamily surreal in their earthy tones and glow; these are juxtaposed to the slightly different (more metallic) glow of 1960s Hollywood and the bright world of Disney. In either case, what could be mundane scenes of period-era workplace or frontier life are instead transformed into more artful and cinematic settings, with a level of visual awareness and purpose that bobs effortlessly in and out of meta-references to the real world beyond the film. (The first-hour jabs at the Disney brand are quite humorous, for example.) The production design is an equally artful and faithful recreation of two historical eras, and a Thomas Newman (American Beauty) musical score only adds to the magic and meaning of the work.

Equally good is the screenplay by former TV writers Kelly Marcel (Terra Nova) and Sue Smith (Bordertown). The script seamlessly (and smartly) weaves the narrative of Travers’ two-week stay in Hollywood with key anecdotes from her childhood, revolving around her whimsical drunkard father (Colin Farrell). The story excels at taking the iconic elements of the Marry Poppins film and juxtaposing them to both the troubled birth of the movie production, as well as the tragic events that originally inspired the book series. The multi-layered narrative keeps the movie’s pace steady, and allows the deeper emotion of the piece to unfold in perfect timing with the development of its central character. By the end, iconic scenes from the Mary Poppins movie may bring a heartfelt tear to your eye; such is the effect of this story.

Tom Hanks as Walt Disney in Saving Mr. Banks 2013 Saving Mr. Banks Review

Tom Hanks as Walt Disney in ‘Saving Mr. Banks’

Of course the cast helps to carry their end. Emma Thompson tops her usual onscreen persona by playing the addled and pedantic “Mrs. Travers.” What begins as an oddball caricature of the real P.L. Travers (whose own prickly nature is verified by actual recordings included at the end of the film), slowly but surely opens up into a portrait of a real woman with deep complexity, and that slow progression is carried out meticulously well by Thompson. Tom Hanks plays up his own “aw-shucks” screen persona to perfect effect as both a depiction of Walt Disney and a suitable foil for Thompson. Hanks’ performance also includes subtle touches of the iron-will authoritativeness behind Disney’s friendly facade, but his presence never overpowers the film, which belongs entirely to Travers.

The supporting cast consists of two ensembles, each equally good and well-balanced. In the ’60s Disney era we have B.J. Novak (The Office), Jason Schwartzman (Moonrise Kingdom), Bradley Whitford (West Wing), Paul Giamatti, Kathy Baker (Too Big to Fail) and Melanie Paxson as the put-upon Disney employees forced to work under the tyranny of Mrs. Travers. Novak, Schwartzman and Whitford are especially good as iconic composers The Sherman Brothers and Don DaGradi, respectively, while Giamatti acts as a sort of narrative Jimminy Cricket, playing Travers’ perennially-upbeat limo driver.

BJ Novak and Jason Schwartzman in Saving Mr. Banks 2013 Saving Mr. Banks Review

B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman in ‘Saving Mr. Banks’

In the flashback scenes we get Colin Farrell and Ruth Wilson (Luther) as Travers’ parents, with Annie Rose Buckley serving as the young version of Travers and Six Feet Under alum Rachel Griffiths playing the real-life inspiration for the Poppins character.  Wilson continues to prove herself a reliable (if not underserved) actress, but it’s Farrell who steals this part of the show with his well-tuned portrayal of a complicated and flawed man, bouncing between the poles of melancholy addiction and high-spirited whimsy and compassion. It might be Farrell’s best work in a long time, and his performance certainly bolsters the critical backstory that drives the film. Unfortunately Griffiths and her character are given little to do, as the story curiously chooses not to focus to mention on the actual person behind Mary Poppins, instead keeping focus tight on Farrell’s character.

In the end, Saving Mr. Banks does what few historical pieces are able to: it both informs and transforms our impression of something we thought we knew, while simultaneously reinforcing what we’ve always loved about it – or better yet, it provides new intrigue to those who may not have loved it in the first (I speak personally, in this case). As far as holiday season movies go, this is a solid bet for that feel-good family film, despite the fact that it contains some heavier (but worthwhile) dramatic elements. Another winner for Hanks in 2013.

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Saving Mr. Banks is now playing in theaters in wider release. It is 125 minutes long and is Rated PG-13 for thematic elements including some unsettling images.

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  1. I wasn’t looking too forward to this one because of the trailer, but the reception has been surprisingly good so I’ll check it out.

  2. @Kofi. The ‘let’s go fly a kite’ segment just broke me down. It was pretty much like watching the last five minutes of it’s a wonderful life, great movie. Emma Thompson deserves an oscar and Paul Giamatti was great support. I could watch several films with Hanks as Disney at various points in his life.

  3. A few questions:

    Are there any actual scenes from the Mary Poppins film in the movie?
    Do younger actors portray Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke?
    Do Dick and/or Julie have cameos in the movie?

    Just curious. Thanks.

    • I saw this at a pre-screening:

      1. A few minor clips
      2. No
      3. No

      It’s really more about the story behind Mary Poppins and the writing of it. But it is done very well, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it.

      • Thanks. I was hoping that there would be st least some focus on them, since they are a large part of what makes Mary Poppins so enjoyable to us. I also saw that they attended the premiere and were interviewed and pictured with Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson. A shame that there isn’t more of a reference to them, but still, I am looking forward to the movie.

  4. I hate to admit it, but although this is a little outside my usual fare for films, I just might watch this on Netflix!

    • You know, someone else on another string mentioned you always reference Netflix in your posts and they thought you probably work for them…jury is still out for me but it is not looking good for you dude!

      • Does Netflix still even put out movies that weren’t direct-to-DVD or Syfy Channel trash? Maybe I’ll have to open a new account.

        • A lot of trash, but still some great stuff (they added Skyfall recently) The tv show are the main attraction in my opinion though

          • Yes, Netflix is where I got to see the entire series of Firefly and Breaking Bad, among others.

  5. I loved it. Very good film. Must watch. Colin and Tom rocked in their performances.Tom played his character in accordance with the story and Thompsons character which just shows Toms experience in acting and his level of skill. Colin was given little to do but he shone in whatever scenes he had. Must watch film.

  6. Nice review Kofi, I’m now interested in this one too. I will at least look for it on Amazon Video On Demand – 1000s of Streaming TV Shows and Movies Commercial Free! if I can’t get to the theater to see it.

    • hahhaa sorry

  7. Kofi is one of the few critics (on-line or print) who knows his stuff, writes well and is not a pretentious movie snob. In other words, he agrees with me about 95% of the time. :)

  8. I’ve been rolling my eyes at the prospect of this film and really had no interest in it until I realized that it’s actually a very important film, especially in the current state of the film industry. It’s important, obviously, for creators to take some degree of artistic integrity in their projects but even more-so is it important for those that want to adapt them (studio heads, producers, etc) to TRULY understand the piece they’re tackling and what the true meaning is of it is. So while i’m really sick of seeing Tom Hanks (and imagine i will hate seeing him as Walt Disney) I definitely want to see the film because of how surprisingly crucial its messages are.

  9. It’s Colin ‘Farrell’, you schmuck

  10. s

  11. While the movie was far from factual, and at many times felt like Disney was just bolstering the imagine of the mighty Walt Disney. It was a very good film. However I would prefer it be less slanted towards Walt, instead of making P.L Traverse seem like she had no idea what was in the best interest of her material. Sure, Travers was grumpy because she was protective of a property that reflected her life as a child. Traverse cried at the premiere cause she was ashamed of what her property became and it frustrated her, while she was essentially pushed out of the way by Walt and his writers without giving her the input she was promised. Yes, she was unfair on many points but it was her property none the less. As a factual film its pretty rough, but if you take it as a fictional account of the events then its a very well made and crowd pleasing film.

    I do however find it very upsetting that Hanks is getting Oscar buzz for his turn as Walt Disney. 1. he gave another Tom Hanks performance, but it wasn’t near one of his greats. 2. Colin Farrell was absolutely splendid and deserves to be at the same level as Emma Thompson as far as praise goes. I found myself engrossed in the flashback scenes because of him. His best work to date.

    • I’ve worked in the creative industry for over 20 years. Some people just can’t work with others. It’s well-documented that Travers didn’t know how to work with a creative team. This was to be a Disney film “based” on the Travers books. Inviting her to play any part in the creative process was a win for her—but to go beyond that and essentially attempt to alter the entire project wasn’t appropriate on her part.

  12. I just saw Saving Mr. Banks with my daughter and loved it. The movie builds nicely, gaining momentum, till a very satisfactory ending is reached. I recommend it highly

  13. It’s a good movie in general. The back story is heart wrenching and so compelling. The only issue I have is the choice of location. Why didn’t they shoot it in Australia. Yes I am biased, but it really distracted from the story.

    • that’s where P.L. Travers grew up.

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