Thursday, December 19, 2013

Movie Review: "Saving Mr. Banks"

I think the wrong way to view the new film, Saving Mr. Banks, is as the making of Disney's classic, Mary Poppins.  Saving Mr. Banks is really about storytelling as both truth and escape, as well as a film about fathers.

The film tells the true story of how Mary Poppins author, P.L. Travers, came to Disney Studios for two weeks in 1961, as Walt Disney and his ace crew of creatives tried to convince the ill-tempered Travers to allow them the rights to make Mary Poppins.

I think it's safe to say that we all know how the film ultimately ends, but how we get there is such an emotional journey that it is worth embarking upon.  Emma Thompson portrays P.L. Travers with enough emotion buried within the subtext of her words that we care about this woman who is not all that immediately likable on the page, and in lesser hands the role would have been just that.  Meanwhile, Tom Hanks plays the part of Walt Disney himself, with a twinkle in his eye, and yet he also manages to bring his trademark everyman quality to old Walt himself and make Walt not seem as if he's some myth, but rather a real man.  However, the big mistake that many seem to be making with this film is that it's a movie about Walt Disney, and while Disney is a very important character in the film, this is P.L. Travers' story.

Through flashbacks we witness Travers' childhood in Australia and her relationship with her alcoholic banker father, Travers Goff, who was the inspiration for Mr. Banks in Mary Poppins, and is portrayed in this film by Colin Farrell with a charming, yet tragic likability.  We witness how much of Travers' childhood went on to inspire Mary Poppins, and it's through these flashbacks that Saving Mr. Banks finds its heart.  Without us seeing what P.L. Travers went through, it's hard for us to understand why she is so against Disney transforming, what is essentially, her own past into a film.  This allows us to relate to this hard to relate to woman, which is the brilliant stroke of director John Lee Hancock and screenwriters Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith.  As a matter of fact, if there is one word to describe Saving Mr. Banks for me, it is brilliant.

It is rare to see a film made by a major studio with this kind of thematic density, and that is why this is such a brilliant motion picture.  There is an honesty to the way the film deals with the idea of fathers and that while they may not be infallible, they can still be saved.  Then there are the thematic ideas of storytelling that ring so true to me as a storyteller myself.  Whether we realize it or not, the stories we tell are reflections of ourselves and our own lives.  Walt says it best late in the film when he points out that the true power of imagination and story is to lend hope, and I think that is why anyone deep down tells a story, and I think that idea sums up Disney's entire career.

There just aren't that many kind of films like Saving Mr. Banks in these cynical days, but if you allow yourself to feel, you will be swept away.  This is a Disney movie, through and through.  There are laughs and moments of soaring emotion throughout, and I wouldn't want anything different from a film made by Disney.  Everytime you hear, "Let's Go Fly a Kite," your spirit soars and as you watch the film, the song begins to take on a whole new meaning that makes it an even more life affirming song than you perhaps ever thought of it as before.  It's not merely a great toetapper that closes a film, it's a song of hope.

I just can't say enough about Saving Mr. Banks, I loved it and I think everyone should see this film. The funny thing about all this is, is that without the film Mary Poppins, Saving Mr. Banks would not exist, and yet Saving Mr. Banks is a film that manages to improve upon what is already a near perfect classic and perhaps even best it.  From now on, every single time you watch Mary Poppins, the many events and ideas of that film will take on a whole new meaning.  In fact, I can't wait till the next time I see Mary Poppins again to see how it may affect me more strongly on an emotional level now knowing more of the story.  Saving Mr. Banks is just a miraculous kind of movie that we need more of.  It's classic Hollywood drama, so if you want my advice, bring a hankie and just enjoy yourself.

I give Saving Mr. Banks an A+!

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