Sunday, December 29, 2013

Saving Mr. Banks (2013) Review

Directed by
John Lee Hancock

There have been a lot of movies about the making of movies.  It has become more and more popular for Hollywood to look at itself.  Just last year, one of these films, Argo, won Best Picture at the Oscars.  This latest film in that genre had a little different take on it all.  Few people would argue with the concept that there is Hollywood film making, and then there is Disney.  Disney has really created an entire world of its own that puts it in its own category.  This is the world that is explored in Saving Mr. Banks as it explores the courtship Walt Disney went through to obtain the rights to make the film adaptation of Mary Poppins.  Everything Disney has a certain amount of magic and imagination involved.  This movie is no different.
The film focuses on Mrs. P.L. Travers (played by Emma Thompson), the author of the Mary Poppins book.  She is a cranky, cynical, old English woman that is obviously against everything American, and especially Disney.  I couldn't help but ask myself several times throughout the film how this woman could be the author of such an imaginative and fun character and story.  These questions are answered as the film goes along, and Travers travels to Hollywood to hear Walt Disney's (Tom Hanks) sales pitch that he has been wanting to give for 20 years.  While Mrs. Travers works with the screenwriter (Bradley Whitford) and songwriters (Jason Schwartzman, B.J. Novak), images from her past seem to resurface.  This leads to a parallel storyline of Travers as a young girl growing up with her alcoholic father (Colin Farrell) who also is the one that taught her how to dream and use her imagination.  It soon becomes clear that to Mrs. Travers, this story is about more than a flying nanny, but also that little girl so many years ago.
There are so many things that make this film remarkable.  First, the ensemble of actors that have been put together to bring this story to life is about as good as you can get.  The two leads, Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks, are the only people I could see playing their roles.  This is especially true for Hanks as he brings one of the most beloved personalities in Hollywood history to life.  Thompson is looking at getting an Oscar nomination for her role, which is completely deserved as she proves to be one of the best out there.  The supporting cast of Farrell (who gives one of his all-time best performances), Whitford, Schwartzman, Novak, and (my favorite) Paul Giamatti all seem to be perfectly cast in their roles as well.  Director John Lee Hancock, who before this is known most for feel good corny sports films like The Rookie and The Blind Side, shows that all he needed to make his feel good stories become special is a little Mickey Mouse.  Two Oscar winners fronting his film help too.
What really made this special though was watching this classic story slowly develop and morph into what we all know and love.  As Mrs. Travers said, Mary Poppins would not be turned into one of Disney's side show cartoons, which is not too far from what the writers originally intended for the film.  However, as your heart breaks for the little girl watching her role model father throw his life away, you begin to understand why the author is so particular about this character and who she is there to save.  As she says, Mary Poppins is family.  Disney simply wanted to make her part of everyone else's family as well.
At the end of this film, only one word came to mind to describe it: magical.  How else would you describe a film showing how Disney works?  It is one of the most fulfilling and complete moviegoing experiences I have had.  I laughed, I cried, I was inspired.  Watching how much this story means to its author makes the payoff at the end so much sweeter.  It is everything Hancock has wanted to get out of all his other films, but fell short.  Again, all he needed was the magic and imagination of Walt Disney.



  1. Yikes...4 stars? I realize we saw this together, but did we see the same movie?

    Magical? The movie was completely devoid of energy and surprises. Everything about it was completely obvious and harmless. There was nothing to suggest that this movie about Disney was anything like the movies that he was responsible for, other than the feel-good nature of the story.

    "A little different take on it all"? Well, it basically used the same format as "Hitchcock" and even "Becoming Jane" to some extent. Having the artist's life mirror the subject of the story in question is hardly a new concept.

    The only thing that really made this movie rise above perfect mediocrity was Emma Thompson's cold, compelling performance. Hanks brings nothing interesting to Disney, which sort of blew my image of what the leader of such an innovative empire would look like in a movie. He doesn't do anything. It was his writers who were shown to be the creative force behind the filmmaking (he asked for the mustache, though!). It is just so predictable that the antagonist (if you can call her that) would be so stern and mean, and our presumed hero would be the nicest guy in the world with no flaws. If this movie was going for realism, it would not have made every person who works at Disney a cartoon character. Like you said, Giamatti is a bright spot, but that is because he plays a real person. All of the Colin Farrell-led flashback stuff is authentic, but it seems misplaced until it is revealed why we are watching it, which winds up being too late anyway.

    The movie overall just had such minimal aspirations and modest payoff that I cannot wrap my head around this review. It is a classic 2.5 star film.

    1. Todd, despite what you may think, 4 star films don't have to be R-rated epics about crime or depression or have no plot at all like most of your 4 stars films every year. It's okay for a feel good movie to be great.

      This film did a great job at keeping the audience engaged from start to finish with two parallel storylines filled with relateable characters. Every character I could relate to except for Thompson's character who was a mystery until the payoff at the end. You start to see it as the movie goes on, but you don't really see what makes her tick until that payoff you said was so obvious from the opening scene. The payoff was more than the movie gets made. And her character was fascinating. How does a woman like that, with no sense of compassion or fresh imagination, write one of the most beloved children's books of all time? It didn't make sense at first until it dug deeper into her past.

      Also, the different take on it all that I talked about had nothing to do with format. Sure, other movies have explored popular stories that mirror the author's real life. The different take I was talking about was it was the first movie to look inside the magic of Disney, which really became a character in itself. The setting made the film and story that much better.

      I also thought Tom Hanks as Walt Disney was perfect. He was one of the most interesting characters. He was a public figure that had the public persona that you got to see behind for one of the first times. He wasn't a perfect character. His public persona was perfect. I saw him as flawed and a borderline bully, but he gets away with it because he's a genius. No, he didn't still write every single script. Does Mark Zuckerberg still write code all day? No, he surrounds himself with the best so he can manage the empire. Same with Disney. He was the genius that started it all and adapted as his brand grew. If it wasn't for Disney, they wouldn't have had any source material to work with and make the movies.

      Sorry, but your criticisms show you just didn't get the movie. Maybe it was because it was a feel-good story after watching two of your crime thrillers for the 6 hours prior. Anything of that nature would have looked boring compared to that. Maybe next time you start your triple feature with the wholesome, feel good movie before you move on to the drugs, booze, and criminal behavior.

    2. U mad bro? Way to take two opposite ends of the spectrum to show my lack of diversity...very effective strategy. Don't forget my #1 of the 2000s is the definition of feel good.

      I didn't say it was obvious from the start, just earlier on than the actual reveal.

      So a new subject makes it a new take on movies about movies? Ok...

      The only controversial thing that Disney did throughout the movie was sort of smoke a cigarette. He is persistent, but not a bully. He was a cartoon character that Jason Schwartzmann's character would have thought up. If he were at all a bully, he would have just thrown more money at her and pulled an "I'm Walt freaking Disney! Who do you think you are?!" type of act. But that would have made his character interesting. That is why Zuckerberg's character was so intriguing...he had those flaws. To make the drama of Mr. Banks compelling, he needed to flaunt his power and be the person he was almost certainly was. Disney didn't even seem to have any part in these movies that he produced (he directed and wrote very few feature length movies). It was just taking place in his building. How about a meeting between his writers and him? The reason why they didn't do those things is because the movie was more about Travers, which made everything about Disney seem half baked. But why do we see so much of him? Because they got Tom Hanks to play him. I want a full length movie about Disney starring Jean Dujardin or something made by a real filmmaker...not the director of The Rookie. The only cliche missing from this movie was Travers falling in love with Disney. Sorry if that disappoints anyone who hasn't seen it...

      Well, being the third leg of the triple feature may not have helped it, but it should have been a more satisfying conclusion. It was feel good, but it was also manipulative. I never said it was boring. I found the movie to be pretty fun, actually, but that isn't enough to call it a great film. I could have predicted that you would love this movie because it doesn't challenge the audience, like We Bought a Zoo and other harmless feel good affairs. It is almost like the writers decided to play the movie as safe as possible to not tarnish Disney's image and not isolate its target audience looking for a good Christmas feel good flick.

      And if you think the circumstances of when I saw it had an impact, what about you? You have only seen like 25 movies from 2013. Go watch 12 Years a Slave and tell me honestly that you feel comfortable giving it the same review as Saving Mr. Banks. To quote Rainn Wilson, it is nothing more than a "puff piece"!