Saving Mr. Banks Review
When we go to the theater, and we see that priceless Disney logo appear before one of their brand new films, everything always feels so positive. There seems to be a positive attitude toward everything Walt Disney touches, and as for the man himself, that wasn't quite the case. Just like so many historic figures, Walt Disney had controversies, rumors and everything else that made him human. There are a great number of stories that could be told about his life, and they all would be enjoyable. (In the right hands, of course.) The story of how Walt Disney got P.L. Travers' "Mary Poppins" story to the big screen is a fascinating one. A story that could be well-told in the right hands.
If I had to describe Tom Hanks' performance as Walt Disney, it would be "charming." Hanks lets the charm loose in a way that I have never seen before, and that's shocking. The performance feels exactly like how Disney might be like in real life. Hanks captures the magic, the naivety, and the genuine sweetness of the man. It may not have been the man he really was, but its what we are used to and Hanks does it well. Hanks' onscreen chemistry with Emma Thompson is done on a grand scale. Emma Thompson's P.L. Travers is a stiff-upper-lipped, stern performance. Its the kind of acting Thompson could do in her sleep. However, when its time to turn on the sincerity, she nails it. The film's heart and soul belongs to Jason Schwartzman, B.J. Novak and Jesse Bradford. They play the team of writers behind the Mary Poppins film adaptation and they butt heads with P.L. Travers all movie long. Its incredibly comic work and its a great example of the right group of actors being directed to do the right combination of actions.
With all of that said, with all the intrigue this story could have brought, I was shocked to learn just how pedestrian it felt. The film feels like it goes through the motions of what a biographical film should look like. P.L. Travers has tons of flashbacks to her childhood, those flashbacks represent a certain part of the Mary Poppins movie, Travers gets a learning experience about herself through the adaptation process, the filmmakers made it feel like a story I've heard a million times before. I thought with the great script for the actors, the story would move in an equally clever way, but that is simply not the case. "Saving Mr. Banks" feels like every other biographical movie ever made and that tends to be frustrating at times.
Not only that, but the actual "true" story itself is heavily tampered with in order to have a typical "Disney" ending. The true story about the making of "Mary Poppins," especially the relationship Disney had with Travers is nearly nonidentical to the movie. "Saving Mr. Banks" is a film owned by Disney, so of course they plan to show Disney in a "golden boy-style" light rather than tell the straight story. Had the film been made by a completely different studio, not associated to anything Disney owns, I wonder if it would have been a clearer, truer story. Instead, we get something that is suppose to make us feel good, even though the real story of bringing Mary Poppins to the big screen didn't quite end up like this. The Disney engine is pretty predictable, and it seems unable to take any risks at all.
Hanks and Thompson carry "Saving Mr. Banks" to great heights, and certainly the rest of the cast that includes Colin Farrell, Paul Giamatti, Ruth Wilson, and Dendrie Taylor make this film more than worth seeing. I just wish the story itself was a little more daring. There isn't a single person in history or popular culture that is a complete perfect creature, and usually studios are not afraid to showcase that. But Disney is determined to fit literally EVERY SINGLE MOVIE in their conglomerate the same. Instead of anything resembling the true story, we get a shadow of it. Even though many movies have been made that are not close to historical accuracy, I feel this one purposefully stretched the tale in order to fit a template Disney has used for years. (Especially for a film about the Disney man himself.) While there is still much to enjoy about "Saving Mr. Banks," I feel it will surprisingly leave you cold.
FINAL GRADE: B-