SAVING MR. BANKS
MOVIE: **** (out of 5)
BLU-RAY EXPERIENCE: ** (out of 5)
Emma Thompson as P.L. TRAVERS
Tom Hanks as WALT DISNEY
Annie Rose Buckley as GINTY
Colin Farrell as TRAVERS GOFF
Ruth Wilson as MARGARET GOFF
Paul Giamatti as RALPH
Bradley Whitford as DON DAGRADI
B.J. Novak as ROBERT SHERMAN
Jason Schwartzman as RICHARD SHERMAN
Directed by: John Lee Hancock
BY KEVIN CARR
One of the films from this past award season that I felt lost out on some well-deserved nominations was “Saving Mr. Banks.” Sure, Emma Thompson got a Golden Globe nomination and my peers in the Broadcast Film Critics Association honored it with four nominations, but there were so many fantastic performances and crisp production design that the movie seemed deserving of the term “snub” (which I normally hate) by many organizations.
Sadly, while “Saving Mr. Banks” did well enough in theaters and should have a healthy run on home video, it was largely forgotten in the hustle and bustle of award season. So while it seems a bit lost in the shuffle, it’s still a fine movie to seek out and watch on home video.
“Saving Mr. Banks” tells the true story of how Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) struggled to secure the rights to make the film “Mary Poppins.” Even though he had spent a sizeable amount of money and resources to develop the property, the rights to the book by P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) hadn’t been signed over yet. The film follows Travers as she visits the Disney studios to micromanage the development process, while Disney tries to convince her to let him make the movie.
Over the past 15 years as a film critic, I have developed a great fondness for the Walt Disney brand. I’ve been fortunate enough to visit the Disney studios in a professional capacity and see how things work behind the scenes. There is an amazing amount of charm the studio has to offer to a lover of film like myself, and seeing the behind-the-scenes business come to life in this period piece was a real joy.
There’s also great care to preserve the Disney brand with this film, which at times goes overboard with its reverence but never stoops to the point of being cheesy. Even in the movie, it’s clear that working at the Disney studios in the 1950s was not necessarily the happiest place on Earth, but it was a job that had a focal point and a goal. There are great challenges made simply in developing a movie, and those are shown – sometimes with great frustration – in this film. However, the end goal is the same, and that makes a difference.
While Thompson (and to a much lesser degree, Hanks) got a nice amount of recognition for her performance, there are plenty of secondary performances that are just as strong. B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman are perfect as the Sherman Brothers, and they represent the most blatant exhibition of irritation with P.L. Travers. Bradley Whitford also fits in well as the frustrated screenwriter Don Dagradi trying to appease both Travers and Disney (who often have conflicting ideas).
And of course, Thompson is fantastic in the role. She got the most accolades because she had the most challenging performance: to play an infuriating biddy with whom you must end up sympathizing. She was excellent in the film, and she clearly enjoyed working with the rest of the cast.
The only time the film slows down is in the flashback moments, which seem to be the heavy hand of director John Lee Hancock. These moments of Travers’ backstory as a little girl are necessary for her development, but they drag on a big and also seem overly similar in design and setting to “The Lone Ranger” from earlier in the year. (I know that sounds like a stretch, but considering the scenes with Ruth Wilson as Travers’ mother could almost be edited into the western railroad setting with her character from “The Lone Ranger,” it makes sense.)
Yes, “Saving Mr. Banks” is Disney doing Disney, and I’m sure there was plenty of sanitizing that happened to make this as friendly and fluffy of a story as it needed to be, in order to fit the brand. But I’m okay with that. That’s part of the Disney magic, and I’d prefer it to a film that spent too much time focusing on the negative attributes of the story in order to increase dramatic effect.
The Blu-ray comes with a thin assortment of special features, which is to be expected for a more grown-up story that doesn’t necessarily fit into Disney’s blockbuster line. There’s some deleted scenes and featurette called “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” in which the real Richard Sherman leads the cast and crew in song on set. It’s touching to see him react to the setting and the memories the story entails.
The best feature is “The Walt Disney Studios: From Poppins to the Present,” in which Hancock takes a tour of the Disney studios and compares the day-to-day life to that of today.