Saving Mr. Banks (2013)

Director:  John Lee Hancock
Cast:  Emma ThompsonTom Hanks, Colin Farrell, Paul Giamatti, Jason Schwartzman
Plot:  Author P.L. Travers reflects on her childhood after reluctantly meeting with Walt Disney, who seeks to adapt her Mary Poppins books for the big screen.

Genre:  Biography / Drama / Comedy
Awards:  Nom. for 1 Oscar - Best Original Score
Runtime:  125min
Rating:  PG for thematic elements including some unsettling images.

“You know, you've never been to Disneyland, that's the happiest place on earth.”

Mary Poppins (1964) was a big hit when it came out, and it also represented Julie Andrews’ greatest moment as she won the Oscar for Best Leading Actress.  The following year she starred in The Sound of Music (1965) sending her star status to even more stratospheric heights. 

Saving Mr. Banks is a dramatization of how Walt Disney got the rights to adapt the story of Mary Poppins into the now beloved musical.  Disney, who is played by a charming Tom Hanks in a supporting role, is not the focus here, but rather P.L. Travers, the author of the “Mary Poppins” books. 

She is played by the gifted Oscar-winning actress Emma Thompson, who unfathomably missed out on an acting nomination.  Thompson’s performance is splendid and very much pulls the film together when it sometimes seems like it is going nowhere.

Saving Mr. Banks comes together nicely only in the final quarter.  In some way, the last twenty minutes or so elevate the movie emotionally.  That is not to say what transpires before is lacking in any real emotion or drive, but that the film doesn’t seem to know where it is headed. 

The use of constant flashbacks to an earlier past in an Australian outback where a young Travers lived with his alcoholic father can feel counterproductive at times, affecting the momentum of the main narrative thread revolving around the older Travers and Disney. 

This constant cutting back and forth is intentional though I feel not critical in telling the back story of Travers.  It feels overemphasized and once we get what the filmmakers are trying to do, we simply just want to see Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks get grooving instead.

Director John Lee Hancock, whose previous work was the popular inspirational film The Blind Side (2009), lends a touch of elegance to the production.  This is a polished movie, treated with reverence for the old glamour of Hollywood. 

It is also a movie tailor-made for the mainstream crowd despite its period setting.  Though I don’t find it enjoyable in the purest sense of the word, I have to admit the finale is unexpectedly powerful, even if the movie unashamedly hits you with overwhelming sentimentality.

Verdict:  Despite its overtly sentimental and nostalgic treatment, this drama ultimately comes together nicely in the final quarter.


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