Sunday, January 05, 2014

Movie Review: "Saving Mr. Banks"

This is the time of year when we have theater gift cards burning holes in our pockets, a bit of extra free time, and award-quality movies out there for our consideration. And so, Lynda and I went to see Saving Mr. Banks last night.

Short, pithy review: It was good. It was sadder than I expected. Emma Thompson was the best part of the movie--which is good as she was very much the center of it.

More detailed movie thoughts: I've seen Mary Poppins (the Disney movie) many times, because of kids and I like it and I can recite many of the songs, and I always forget how looong it actually is. As far as early-era Disney movies go, its enjoyable and I like it. Bonus points because Julie Andrews is super great and the bit with Uncle Albert is odd and fun and I was always intrigued by how Mary Poppins became very shrewish with the kids after their jolly holiday in the chalk drawings and they are going to bed and carrying on about what a great day they had. (It always seem very off tone . . . but after watching SMB, it makes a bit more sense.)

Saving Mr. Banks is about the making of Mary Poppins and tells the (mostly true?) story of how Walt Disney and his creative team work with, against, and around Poppins author P.L. Travers to get the movie made in the early 1960s.

Tom Hanks is a passable Walt Disney, but as with all of his roles, I always know that it is Tom Hanks. (But, to be honest . . . unless extensive makeup is used, isn't that really always the case with actors? Isn't the "s/he submerged themselves in the role" something that Hollywood tells us and expects us to accept?) I don't know if someone else would have been a better Walt. They probably wouldn't have carried with them the likability factor of Hanks that was important for portraying the steward of the Happiest Place on Earth.

And here is where my biggest questions for this movie lay. I don't know a detailed biography of Walt Disney, but I know he's a huge target for supporters and for detractors alike. So, when someone that mythologized/demonized is shown . . . how much is real and how much is massaged? Watching this movie makes me want to read more about Disney . . . similar to the excellent biography of Charles Schultz that I got for Christmas several years ago. But can such an honest telling of Disney be possible anymore? Is the cult of personality too strong and too carefully built?

Back to the movie . . .

Emma Thompson, of Poppins-spin off Nanny McPhee (and others, of course) fame is great. She plays the prickly, cautions, conflicted P.L. Travers with clarity and believability. She is the center of the film's story and much of the narrative bounces back and forth between Travers' time working on the Poppins script in Los Angeles in 1961 and her memories of an Australia childhood in the early 1900s.

But here again, I am not sure if the directly-suggested links and phrases from Travers' memories that echo moments in the Disney film are real or invented to tell a Hollywood story. Perhaps I need to read more about her life as well and also to read the series of Poppins books (who knew there were more than one?).

Overall, it was a sad tale that choked me up at moments, made me laugh at all the expected times, and made me see an old familiar tale in a new way. And that is surely what it was meant to do. So, high praise for making a human story the way they wanted and doing it well.

  • Surely Paul Giamatti's driver character is one of those Hollywood inventions that helps link a story together. He wasn't real, was he?
  • My biggest narrative beef was that the movie didn't do a clear enough job explaining to me why Travers' heart of ice began to thaw. The movie showes it happening, but never quite made me understand why she acquiesced on the progress of the script or why she (supposedly) began liking her time in L.A.
  • Kudos to Jason Schwartman for his role as the piano-playing, singing lyricist (one of the Disney Studio's Sherman brothers). He was very enjoyable.

1 comment:

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Hanks doesn't have to work too hard to capture the man we want Walt Disney to have been. But it's Thompson who ties it all together.