It’s funny how the films you don’t intend to see can take you by surprise. Saving Mr. Banks was one of those films that I’d heard good things about, but I’d shrugged it off as a rental simply because it didn’t catch my interest (if I’m being honest, biographies and/or true stories rarely do). However, when a friend suggested it to while away an afternoon, I figured why not? So we caught a matinee show.
Let me preface this review by saying something that might shock you, dear readers: if I have seen Mary Poppins, it’s been long enough that I remember next to nothing about it. I know the basic story and most of the songs, of course, but I couldn’t give you any of the details of the plot. Perhaps that’s why I wasn’t interested in Saving Mr. Banks. But I am so, so glad I did see it. Is it overly sentimental and a very Disneyfied version of the true story? Probably. But the performances are so good and the story-telling so smooth that I really didn’t have a problem with that.
Synopsis: “Author P. L. Travers reflects on her difficult childhood while meeting with filmmaker Walt Disney during production for the adaptation of her novel, Mary Poppins.” –Borrowed from my favorite movie site, IMDb.
The Good: This film is pretty evenly divided between two stories: P.L. Travers’ traumatic childhood and her dealings with Walt Disney and co. during the production of Mary Poppins. The film could easily favor one story over the other, but I feel like it maintains a nice balance of the two, and, despite going back and forth between them, both stories run their proper course and both of them are interesting. Plus, the stories are woven together in a really clever, cohesive way. There’s even a scene where dialogue from a character in Travers’ past is blended with a song from Mary Poppins. It’s smart, entertaining story-telling. However, the film wouldn’t be nearly as good as it is without the incredible cast. Emma Thompson is perfect as the very particular and never satisfied Mrs. Travers, and she’s bound to get an Oscar nomination. Tom Hanks could very well get a nomination for his performance as Walt Disney, too, as it seems to be a pretty spot-on portrayal (though I’m not sure Disney was quite as agreeable as Tom Hanks makes him out to be). Colin Farrell plays Travers’ beloved, wildly imaginative father, who, unfortunately, made his family suffer through his alcoholism. Paul Giamatti plays Travers’ cheerful, good-natured limo driver, Ralph. Bradley Whitford plays Mary Poppins screenwriter Don DaGradi, and Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak play the Sherman brothers, who wrote the music for the film. They’re all brilliantly cast, and there’s not a bad performance among them. And a great part of the fun of this film is the music—both the score and the music the Sherman brothers play for Travers. Honestly, the music alone will make you want to watch Mary Poppins again, and you won’t be able to get those tunes out of your head for days. I would know. Favorite scene: DaGradi and the Sherman brothers finally win Travers over with a tweaked ending to Mary Poppins and a rousing rendition of “Let’s Go Fly a Kite.” Very uplifting and very fun.
The Bad: Though it didn’t bother me, I could see how some people might think this film is overly sentimental. It definitely makes an effort to tug at your heartstrings—even aggressively so at times. Given that this film is based off true events, what unfolds is definitely a little too sappy and sweet for real-life. You can sense the embellishments. Also, Travers, though wonderfully portrayed by Thompson, is often too outlandish to be believed. I understand that she was a tough customer for Disney and co., but I sincerely doubt she acted nearly as over-the-top as she does in this film. There were a few times when the character’s behavior made me pause and think, “Really?” My biggest qualm, though, is with the end of the film, which feels far too abrupt. The end to both Travers’ childhood story and her dealings with Disney seem cut off before we get to some of the most important parts. How was young Travers’ relationship with her aunt, who seemed to partially inspire the character of Mary Poppins? What made Travers agree to continue with the film despite her major qualms (i.e. the animation)? Did Travers react favorably to the finished film? We don’t know any of this. Maybe the film is either assuming that we already know or that we intend to find out after we leave the theater, but that’s assuming too much. Least favorite scene: Almost any scene dealing with Travers’ father’s alcoholism. I can’t count how many times we see him take a swig from the secret bottle in his jacket, but I can tell you it’s too much. We pretty much get the idea after the first glimpse. The father’s story as a whole feels fairly heavy-handed.
To Sum It Up: There are a few mild stumbles in this film, but the performances are so great, the story so smooth, and the music so fun that I was able to get past those issues. Highly recommended for those seeking a slightly grown-up family film (PG-13 rating) and/or Disney lovers. A must-see for Mary Poppins fans.
My Grade: A-
Hope your weekend it off to an excellent start, friends! Come back tomorrow because, fingers crossed, I will have another fulfilled film resolution for you. 2014 is rolling along! 🙂