Saving Mr. Banks
Movies about making other movies. What could easily be mistaken as a dead end in the movie-making labyrinth is actually a fantastic concept if the result is films like Saving Mr. Banks. The dramedy breaks away from typical Disney films and gets dangerously close to becoming a deep psychological study of Mary Poppins author P. L. Travers, but sprinkles enough Disney magic and humor to keep the author’s light-hearted and fun. I haven’t watched Mary Poppins for as long as my memory can account for, but this movie is as compelling an argument as any to crack out the old VHS.
Based on true events, though undoubtedly dramatized just a tad, Travers (Emma Thompson) is a grumpy, seemingly English lady who flies out to Los Angeles (the place where even the rain is supposed to be happy) to negotiate Mary Poppins film adaption rights with Walt Disney himself (Tom Hanks). Travers is unwilling to easily sign away the rights, as she is familiar with Disney’s tendency to make everything jolly and animated, and wishes for her character Ms. Poppins to remain as dark as she is on the page. After rampaging her hotel room filled with oversized stuffed animal Mickey Mouses and Goofys, Travers gives Disney a shot, though it’s immediately clear their creative differences will be a problem.
The main plot is intertwined with flashback scenes of Travers as a young girl growing up with her bright, Walt Disney-esque father (Colin Farrell). Usually I’m not a fan of storytelling formats in which screen time is divided between two subplots, but it works smoothly here, thanks to the editing done by Mark Livolsi. We discover how cruel Travers is as a grown woman as we learn where her cruelty comes from in her childhood. The editing’s powerful connection of the two subplots accentuates Thompson’s already fantastic acting. The real Travers is either grateful or turning over in her grave somewhere, but either way, she definitely noticed.
Surrounded by a delightful supporting cast (including Paul Giamatti, Bradley Whitford, Jason Schwartzman, B. J. Novak, and Melanie Paxson), Thompson’s performance will put forth a strong argument for her in the upcoming awards season. She finds a delicate balance between being stone-cold and vulnerable, presenting a well-rounded character consistently joyful to watch. Hanks portrays as much class and flare as one would expect from Walt Disney. Meanwhile, a few decades back, Farrell exudes his usual charisma and provides a huge chunk of the film’s heart, which is already huge. There’s a reason this movie came out during awards season.
Despite what could have been a clunky drama, the film plays as light and flourishing as any Disney movie in recent memory. It’s a reminder that even adults as strict as Travers are allowed to revel in childish delights once in a while. The film is a celebration of the timelessness of a film fifty years ago, and proves they still have the same magic they had back then.