Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Saving Mr Banks

The story of how Walt Disney Studios acquired the film rights to Mary Poppins is told in parallel to the story of its author PL Travers' difficult childhood in Saving Mr Banks. Walt Disney tried to convince Travers to sign over the rights for twenty years. The movie depicts a two week period in which Travers was in Los Angeles to approve the script. She was very demanding, to say the least. As with all films based on true events, the movie has met with its fair share of criticism. Some say the movie depicts Walt Disney in too positive a light, some that the film is too hard on Travers, others that it is rather forgiving of Travers. The original screenwriter, Sue Smith, focused on the development of Mary Poppins and Travers' unique path to motherhood. At age 40 Travers agreed to adopt twins and then changed her mind, only adopting one of the babies. Kelly Marcel took over the script and dropped the motherhood aspect, adding the dual story of Travers' childhood and the making of the movie. The two share writing credits. The script is also based on the book Mary Poppins, She Wrote: The Life of PL Travers by Valerie Lawson. Interestingly enough, both Smith and Marcel worked on the project prior to the involvement of Disney Studios. Marcel was concerned that when Disney obtained the movie that Walt Disney would be sanitized, not shown drinking or smoking. Disney does drink in one scene and is seen putting out a cigarette. It does seem that the images and musical rights from the 1964 Mary Poppins that are in Saving Mr Banks would have been difficult for a studio other than Disney to obtain. The film is not a bio pic of Disney or Travers, it is based on accounts of how the movie rights to Mary Poppins were procured. Disney's 1940s labor issues nor Travers' romantic relationships with both men and women are the subject of the film. Those are much more tantalizing topics that would be obvious omissions from their individual life stories.
Tom Hanks makes an enchanting Walt Disney. Emma Thompson adds warmth and sympathy to a  difficult character. The movie is very well cast with strong supporting appearances by Colin Farrell as Travers' father, Ruth Wilson as her mother, and Rachel Griffiths as Travers' aunt who was the inspiration for Mary Poppins. Working most closely with Travers in the film were Bradley Whitford as screenwriter Don DaGradi and the composer brothers Robert and Richard Sherman as portrayed by BJ Novak and Jason Schwartzman. Paul Giamatti is Travers' Disney Studios driver while in LA. His character is actually a fictitious addition to the script. He was added with the intent to show a softer side of Travers and make her more accessible. The set pieces and costuming of 1961 are impeccable. The score composed by Thomas Newman is excellent.

I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of this picture. All the elements of story telling and movie magic are complete. Thompson has been nominated for her acting by both the Golden Globes and the SAG. The likelihood of her receiving an Oscar nomination is solid. Hanks received nominations for his work in Captain Phillips and not Saving Mr Banks. Hanks makes it look easy being Disney. He is perfectly cast. It is understandable why the other aspects of the movie may not receive nominations despite its quality. The Academy often tends towards the more dark and less feel-good. Of course there are the sentimental favorites every year but the acting may be the only area where Saving Mr Banks is acknowledged. I admit, I was predisposed to like this movie. I love Disneyland, Tom Hanks and Mary Poppins. The movie is so well executed and acted that it is both a bittersweet story and a tearjerker. I also had the pleasure of watching the movie with the benefit of a Groupon, in an arm chair, in a movie parlor theater at Cinetopia. I have had the songs of Mary Poppins in my head since I saw the film and have since rewatched the now classic movie.

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