Saving Mr. Banks

Saving Mr. Banks

  • Saving Mr. Banks is likably funny and sometimes emotional. It is anchored by strong central performances and a bygone sensibility that renders it a compelling companion to Mary Poppins (1964).
  • But it does have its flaws.
  • Playing P.L. Travers, Emma Thompson is terrific, maybe even award-worthy.
  • As Walt Disney, Tom Hanks is equally good. He is better in Captain Phillips, but this role once again showcases the man’s ability to disappear in his character.
  • The supporting players are equally excellent, with Paul Giamatti (Ralph) delivering a wonderfully understated turn.
  • Thompson’s Travers is well developed. As is Giamatti’s Ralph.
  • Yet, many characters are not so well drafted. In this telling, Disney (Hanks) is a legendary artist who deserves modern day admiration. He is basically without fault, save the occasional secreted-away vice, a penchant for hyperactivity, and a slight, but never offensive, tendency to manipulate. His hero-worship characterization gives Saving Mr. Banks an unpleasant tone of self-aggrandizement for the studio that financed the film.
  • Travers’ family, portrayed through flashback, is treated even worse. The flashback characters (mother, father and aunt) are not actually personalities; they are melodramatic plot devices used to make the viewer feel for the film’s protagonist.
  • Which is where Director John Lee Hancock makes his biggest mistake. He draws too direct correlation between Travers’ past and present, often editing in flashbacks with such heavy-handed timing that the viewer feels ever-so-slightly manipulated.
  • For all of that, as a standalone piece of fiction, Saving Mr. Banks is well above average. We do care about Travers, no matter the film’s lack of subtlety. Were this naught but a fictional tale, I might give it a B, and would certainly go no lower than a B-minus.
  • But it isn’t just that. It’s a creative imagining of a real event, which is why its egregious falsehoods prove problematic.
  • The real Walt Disney was hardly heroic in producing Mary Poppins. Shrewd and manipulative, he used clever contractual tricks to double cross Travers. Neither he nor the Sherman brothers (played here by Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak) captured Travers’ fancy. Indeed, she hated them so much, even thirty years later, that her Last Will forbade them from ever again being involved in a production about her characters.
  • Nor did Travers like the film adaptation of her work. She did cry at the premiere, but because she was traumatized by how badly Disney had butchered her beloved work, not because she was moved by his movie. By all accounts, she even hated “Let’s Go Fly a Kite,” the song that plays such a pivotal role in Saving Mr. Banks’ plot.
  • That Hancock’s film chooses to omit all of these facts further suggests that Walt Disney Pictures aimed to create a self-celebratory final product that was less about thematic truth and more about its own awesomeness.
  • It also reduces my grade.
  • Final Grade: C+

13 thoughts on “Saving Mr. Banks

  1. P.L. Travers just sounds like a misery of a human being and I have almost no interest in seeing this. Tom Hanks might get me, but maybe not. Ho-hum.

    Nice review though, as always. Great heads-up for what I might could expect.

  2. Good review. There were moments where it could have easily been manipulative and sappy beyond belief, however, it takes the high-road and touched me more than I expected it to.

  3. I don’t think I could handle watching this film. While I’m sure it has its merit, the whole enterprise makes me feel …uncomfortable. It just seems like a big budget advertisement.

    • In the end, I think that’s precisely what it winds up feeling like. Disney is too perfect, the Sheman Brothers too classic and amazing, etc.

      I’d hoped to see something closer to the truth, something that analyzed how two great artists can see very different strengths in one concept, and how they can sometimes go to extremes to make their labors of love.

  4. Emma Thompson is extraordinary. I found myself siding with P.L. Travers given Disney’s desire to manipulate her work to suit his own desires. I enjoyed the film on an entertainment level, but as far as a factual representation of real events? Yeah it shouldn’t be taken as gospel.

    • I agree on Thompson and on for whom the film makes us root.

      It certainly isn’t truthful. The real Disney went through a painstaking script approval process with Travers, just like Saving Mr. Banks details. But then he made the film he wanted all along (which wound up being great). When he screened it to Travers, she reportedly asked when they started cutting it, to which he said something akin to, ‘You had script approval rights. Not editing rights.’ It was a brilliantly conceived double cross.

      Had they shown something closer to this truth, I think the studio would have also made something that feels considerably less like a lengthy advertisement and more like a powerful thematic film on the nature of art.

      Anyway, thanks for stopping by. 😉

    • 🙂

      It is worth noting that plenty of people love this movie. It has an 80% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes and has received considerable love on the blogosphere. Even I think it above average, even given its flaws.

      Still, is it one that requires the big screen experience? Probably not. I think the theater screen is always better, but there isn’t anything here that says “Big Screen Required.” 🙂

  5. Overly sentimental and sugary films rarely work for me, and Saving Mr. Banks is a perfect example. I have nothing wrong with people who like the film, I can see why people would. It just didn’t work for me. Everything was too clean and tidy, I just have known this walking into a film that was made by the same man who directed The Blind Side.

    I just find it a bit silly that the purpose of Travers’ mission is to not make Mary Poppins into ‘one of Disney’s silly cartoons’ or whatever she says, and yet Saving Mr. Banks feels exactly like that.

    It just didn’t work for me.

    • Sounds like you like it even less than me. Was definitely emotionally manipulative (or sentimental), but I think it still has merit.

      Even if it also has loads of flaws. 🙂

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