Friday, December 20, 2013

Movie Review: Saving Mr. Banks

Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks

Saving Mr. Banks
is based on the true story of Walt Disney's fight to acquire the rights to Mary Poppins from author P.L. Travers. Travers and Walt Disney (the actual man, not the company) went back and forth for about twenty years before Travers finally sold the rights to him, and their relationship is included in the movie. Although the film isn't entirely historically accurate, it is a great movie, and I was surprised by how much I liked it.

The movie jumps between the past, when P.L. Travers flies to L.A. from London to negotiate Mary Poppins, and the present, in Australia, when she was a little girl. Young P.L., whose real name is Helen, lives with her father (Colin Farrell) and mother (Ruth Wilson), and although her father is a banker, he is a man of whimsy; he always makes her feel special, and for a long time she doesn't realize he's an alcoholic who sometimes even drinks before going to work. Eventually, her father gets very sick, and a nanny of sorts comes to their house to take care of him, and also make sure the house is in tip-top shape - much like Mary Poppins, although her job is to care for the children in that family.

In the present, Travers is having a hard time with "Mr. Disney" (even though he insists she calls him Walt) and because she still owns the rights to the book, she is able to make ridiculous demands of him. The Sherman brothers (B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman) and their original songs keep getting shot down by her, and even the kinder songwriter, Don (Bradley Whitford) is having a tough time with "Mrs. Travers," as she wants to be called. She's not any nicer to her chauffeur, Ralph (Paul Giamatti), either, and she absolutely loathes that Disney has filled her hotel room with Mickey Mouse, Goofy, and other Disney character paraphernalia as a welcome present. Disney promised his daughters a long time ago that he would bring their favorite book to the big screen, and he says that he never goes back on a promise to his children; therefore, he must learn to work with Travers, and accept some of her (sometimes crazy) demands.

I did not expect that this film would have so many sad elements throughout. The choice to move between the past and the present was an excellent one, as we get to learn more about Helen (Mrs. Travers) and see how she got to be who she is today, as well as the inspiration for Mary Poppins. Emma Thompson was fantastic as her, and she's been nominated for both a SAG and Golden Globe for the role. Tom Hanks was also great as Walt Disney, who I don't believe has previously been seen as an on-screen incarnation. Colin Farrell was also good as Helen's father in the flashbacks, and Jason Schwartzman, Paul Giammati, and Bradley Whitford all succeed in their roles too, although they are more minor.

Yes, definitely see this movie. It may be my favorite non-animated Disney movie as of yet, and it is one of the better films I saw in 2013. I think I may have seen the film Mary Poppins once when I was younger, but I'd like to rewatch it now, after seeing all of the work that went into the movie. This film shows Mary Poppins briefly at the end of it, during the premiere scenes, but I would like to see the entire thing, and maybe read the book as well. P.L. Travers actually wrote a few Poppins books, but only sold the first one to Disney, as she didn't like what he did with the movie - which is alluded to in this film, but not altogether mentioned. However, if you're looking for a good story that is (mostly) true, I highly recommend Saving Mr. Banks, and with its stellar cast it should do well at the box office this holiday season.

Saving Mr. Banks is in theaters today, December 20th, and is rated PG-13 with a runtime of 125 minutes. 4.5 stars out of 5.

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