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Movie Review: Saving Mr. Banks

December 13, 2013

Saving Mr. Banks PosterSaving Mr. Banks – A Walt Disney Pictures Release

Release Date: December 13th, 2013 (Limited)

December 20th, 2013 (Wide)

Rated PG for thematic elements and some unsettling images

Running time: 125 minutes

John Lee Hancock (dir.)

Kelly Marcel (writer)

Sue Smith (writer)

Thomas Newman (music)

Emma Thompson as P.L. Travers

Tom Hanks as Walt Disney

Bradley Whitford as Don DaGradi

B.J. Novak as Robert Sherman

Jason Schwartzman as Richard Sherman

Melanie Paxson as Dolly

Annie Rose Buckley as Ginty

Colin Farrell as Travers Goff

Ruth Wilson as Margaret Goff

Rachel Griffiths as Aunt Ellie

Saving Mr. Banks

©Walt Disney Pictures.  All Rights Reserved.

Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) and P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) in Saving Mr. Banks.

Our reviews below:


Saving Mr. Banks Review By John C.

**** (out of 4)

We all know that Mary Poppins is a beloved classic.  The 1964 musical was nominated for 11 Academy Awards and won Julie Andrews an Oscar for her iconic portrayal of the title character, becoming Walt Disney’s only production to be in the running for Best Picture.  There is a beautiful symmetry to watching the story behind Mary Poppins unfold in Saving Mr. Banks.  With excellent acting from everyone involved, this is one of the most entertaining and moving films of the year.

The story starts when Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) finally gets author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) to leave her home in England and visit his studios in Los Angeles, to discuss his planned production of her classic book.  But from the moment she steps off the plane, greeted by a cheerful chauffeur, Ralph (Paul Giamatti) and a large plush Mickey Mouse on her hotel bed, she becomes even more reluctant to sign over the film rights to Mary Poppins.  Rejecting practically every idea she is presented with by writer Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford) and songwriters Richard (Jason Schwartzman) and Robert Sherman (B.J. Novak), P.L. Travers retreats farther into her own world, still stuck in her memories of childhood.

Through flashbacks with her alcoholic father (Colin Farrell), we come to understand that P.L. Travers created these characters as a way to deal with the pain of her own upbringing in Australia, cathartically making her own tragic memories seem better in retrospect.  This is not only one of the best movies of the year, but also a beautiful look at the deeply personal elements that every writer puts into their work, and a touching tribute to the legacy of Walt Disney.  An impromptu performance of “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” partway through Saving Mr. Banks perfectly illustrates his famous motto that “for every laugh there should be a tear,” bringing to a head all of the emotion and joy that is felt while watching the film.

The increasingly heartbreaking flashbacks are beautifully edited together with the sharply written scenes in the 1960s, giving us a sense of understanding for both sides of the story.  Walt Disney openly embraces life, despite hardships in his childhood.  P.L. Travers is guarded and secretive, and the only parts of herself that she has openly revealed are hidden within the pages of her work.  Tom Hanks delivers a pitch perfect portrayal of this famous man, capturing both his larger than life persona as well as the beating heart behind his image, and a story that he tells late in the film about his own childhood is beautifully delivered.  Emma Thompson is outstanding as the ornery author, perfectly capturing the heartbreaking vulnerability behind her reluctance to hand over the rights to her life work.

Colin Farrell is also quite strong during the flashbacks, playing her father as a man in pain, ashamed of his reliance on alcohol, doing everything he can to bring joy into the life of his young daughter (Annie Rose Buckley).  Back in the 1960s, Jason Schwartzman and B. J. Novak perfectly capture the small nuances of the Sherman Brothers, and Bradley Whitford is excellent as the increasingly exasperated screenwriter.  Their scenes together sparkle with the life that goes into the creative writing process.  Paul Giamatti is another standout, delivering several deeply felt scenes alongside Emma Thompson.

This is a beautiful, entertaining and moving film, a masterful tribute to two great artists and the personal elements that they both brought to the same work.  From the bookending shots of a blue sky that promise hope at the beginning and symbolize so much more at the end, Saving Mr. Banks is outstanding.


Saving Mr. Banks Review by Erin V.

**** (out of 4)

Saving Mr. Banks tells the story of Walt Disney’s (Tom Hanks) struggle to get P. L. Travers (Emma Thompson) to sign the rights to him to allow him to make her story of Mary Poppins into a movie.  Ms. Travers felt that the character of Mary Poppins was too important to her to be made into a “silly cartoon.”  But through persistence Disney finally convinced her to sign him over the rights and Mary Poppins was brought to the screen, becoming a huge hit, and now a much remembered classic in the Disney canon.

What is fascinating about Saving Mr. Banks is how much it focuses on P. L. Travers and her childhood growing up in Australia.  Having a hard time growing up, Mary Poppins represented a figure to her who in some ways saved her family.  Being this close to the character, seeing someone else’s vision of her on screen – and one quite different from her own idea of the character – was clearly a very difficult thing to allow.  In fact, Ms. Travers in real life never did approve of the finished film after seeing it.

Saving Mr. Banks is one that is sure to be a crowd pleaser, and is very well done.  The flashbacks do not feel overdone and the ‘current day’ (1963) stuff fits in quite well with it.  Emma Thompson is excellent in her role, as is Tom Hanks and the rest of the cast.  The use of the original Mary Poppins songs as they are presented to Ms. Travers are very well done (with Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak as the Sherman brothers), especially the scene where she first hears “Let’s Go Fly a Kite.”  Paul Giamatti is also very good in the small role as the driver provided for Ms. Travers during her stay in Hollywood, and the scenes between just the two of them provide interesting character insights.  Overall, this Christmas season, Saving Mr. Banks is a film worth checking out in theatres for teens and adults.


Saving Mr. Banks Review by Nicole

**** (out of 4)

Saving Mr. Banks tells the fascinating true story of Mary Poppins writer P.L. Travers.  Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) and his children are enthralled with the story of Mary Poppins, and want to bring her to film.  But author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) refuses to allow her book to be turned into, as she puts it, “a silly cartoon.”

Flashbacks of her Australian childhood depict the enchantment she had with the beautiful outback environment, but also the tragedy of her beloved father’s (Colin Farrell) drinking problem, a form of anesthetic against his chronic tuberculosis.  Mary Poppins was created to save Mr. Banks, inspired by P.L. Travers’ own father, from his many troubles.  She feels that, as a witty musical, Walt Disney and the Sherman Brothers (Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak) just are not getting the point of her book.  But perhaps Disney does get the point of Mary Poppins after all.

Saving Mr. Banks is an Oscar-worthy film on all levels.  The acting is phenomenal, carrying a real poignancy and compassion within the characters.  Every scene is beautifully shot, the editing is superb, keeping a consistency between flashbacks, songs and lines from the original Mary Poppins film.  One really sees the parallels between Mary Poppins and P.L. Travers’ childhood.  Having compared the book to the Mary Poppins film, I found that in the book, the character is a lot more stern, getting mildly annoyed when the Banks children bring up her magical qualities.  One gets the sense in the books that the Banks children are simply imagining the magical adventures.

Having rewatched Mary Poppins, I noticed how much the film is about Mr. Banks and his need to reconnect with his own children.  The Mary Poppins in the film is more of a guardian angel, who comes to save the family through a series of magical adventures that truly happen.  Saving Mr. Banks takes the Mary Poppins film and book into a new perspective.


Saving Mr. Banks Review by Maureen

**** (out of 4)

Saving Mr. Banks is, in a word, charming.  Watching this touching and delightful in every way movie left me with a smile on my face, a tear in my eye and several Mary Poppins songs in my heart.  “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” and “Feed the Birds” now have more meaning after seeing this film.

Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) tried for over twenty years to convince the author of the popular children’s book Mary Poppins to sign over the rights so he could bring the story to the big screen.  However, author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) continued to refuse, so afraid that Disney would turn her beloved character into a silly, cartoonish caricature.  Mary Poppins does not sing, nor does she make up silly words, Mrs. Travers reminds Walt and his team of writers and songwriters, the Sherman Brothers, Richard (Jason Schwartzman) and Robert (B.J. Novak).

Finally, in 1961, Walt Disney convinces P.L. Travers to come to Los Angeles and be his guest at Disneyland.  Reluctantly, she goes, fighting Walt every step of the way in realizing his vision for Mary Poppins as movie lovers know and love her today.  On the surface, P.L. Travers was being difficult for the sake of being difficult.  However, Saving Mr. Banks gives audiences insight into how Mary Poppins came to be and why the character was so very personal for her.

Mrs. Travers’ story is told in beautifully shot flashbacks of her childhood in Australia.  Young Pamela (Annie Rose Buckley) adored her Daddy (Colin Farrell), a charming dreamer with a fondness for drink.  Memories of her family life, the good moments and the tragic ones, come flooding back to her as she spends time at Disney Studios, desperately trying to make sure her Mary Poppins is treated right.  When Walt Disney finally understands what the character stood for in P.L. Travers’ mind, he then is able to reassure her that Mary Poppins and Mr. Banks will be okay.

So much is revealed in the flashback scenes.  Colin Farrell gives a compelling performance as Pamela’s father.  Annie Rose Buckley is also perfect as young Pamela.  So much more about her is also revealed in the quiet scenes in Los Angeles with her Disney assigned driver, Ralph (Paul Giamatti).  Their scenes together are some of the nicest in the movie.  Paul Giamatti is wonderful in this small but important supporting role.

However, the strength of Saving Mr. Banks comes thanks to the incredible leading work of Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson.  These two are magical and light up every scene.  The other star of this movie is, without question, the music.  Between the excellent score by Thomas Newman and the memorable Sherman Brothers songs, it’s hard to leave the theatre without humming a favourite Mary Poppins tune.

All in all, Saving Mr. Banks is a wonderful companion to Disney’s 1964 musical.  Watch them back to back if you can, and see Mary Poppins in a brand new light.  Suitable for all but the youngest family members, Saving Mr. Banks is a real treat.


Saving Mr. Banks Review by Tony

**** (out of 4)

Saving Mr. Banks tells the true story of the reluctant collaboration of P. L. Travers (Emma Thompson) with Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) on the film adaptation of her book Mary Poppins. As a promise to his daughters, Disney had sought the film rights for over twenty years, but Travers always refused, fearing that he would reduce her novel to a flashy cartoon.

Only when she needed the money did she agree in 1961 to go to Los Angeles to see whether an acceptable treatment of her book could be worked out. The immediate cultural clash between the pompous author insisting on being addressed as Mrs. Travers (though she had never married, with evidence very much to the contrary) with the folksy charm of Disney and his team all on a first name basis was the least of their problems. Any animated sequences, the use of songs by the Sherman brothers, and the casting of Dick Van Dyke (who freely admits his cockney accent was bad) were all possible deal breakers.

As Saving Mr. Banks shows in flashbacks, the author’s real objections to a flippant treatment of her book could be traced to her difficult childhood. Born in 1899 to an Irish alcoholic father, Travers Goff (Colin Farrell, a natural fit), the former Helen Goff, nicknamed Ginty, was forced to move from a comfortable home in Maryborough, Australia to the Queensland frontier town of Allora as her father’s banking career went downhill. Her later identity as a serious British actress and author was an escape from this challenging upbringing.

Saving Mr. Banks is the first Disney film to have Disney himself as a character. With the book Mary Poppins She Wrote by V. Lawson as a source, and the surviving brother Richard Sherman as a consultant, it provides an accurate account of the creative process around the film that is about to reach its fiftieth anniversary. Outstanding performances by Thompson and Hanks are supported by an excellent cast that includes, besides Farrell, Jason Schwartzman as Richard Sherman and Paul Giamatti as the charming chauffeur. Director John Lee Hancock has brought all the elements of this story together into a film worthy of the one it is about.


Consensus: Fronted by brilliant acting from Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks, with an excellent supporting cast and beautiful screenplay, Saving Mr. Banks is an entertaining and moving film that pays tribute to the legacy of Mary Poppins.  **** (Out of 4)

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