Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Movie Review: Saving Mr. Banks

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Acting and emotional story
Cons: A few nitpicks; the ending
The Bottom Line:
The drama behind
Making Walt's film masterpiece
Good for what it is

Getting the Right to Mary Poppins

As a DisNerd, I'd have mixed reactions to Saving Mr. Banks from the moment I heard about it.  I'd already known much of the story behind the work Walt Disney went through to get the rights to Mary Poppins.  And honestly, I wasn't sure how I was going to feel about watching an actor, any actor, play Disney.  Plus how would P. L. Travers come across?  Then I started hearing raves for it, so I finally got a chance to rent it.  It was good, but I do have some issues with it.

When Walt Disney's (Tom Hanks) girls were little, they found the Mary Poppins books by P. L. Travers (Emma Thompson).  They convinced him that the stories would make a great movie.  However, Mrs. Travers was against the idea.  She loved the characters and didn't want to see them turned into chirping cartoons.

It took 20 years for Mrs. Travers to even agree to meet with Walt Disney, and this movie follows that trip and what it took for her to finally give over the rights to her beloved characters.  She objected to everything.  How the house would look.  The songs.  Oh the songs.  The color red being in the film.

As this story unfolds, we see flashbacks to her days growing up in Australia and her relationship with her own parents (Colin Farrell and Ruth Wilson).  How does that affect her feelings for the characters?

Honestly, part of the reason I was worried is that Disney would come across as the hero and Mrs. Travers as the villain.  And she certain did come across as unreasonable, especially at the beginning.  However, as the movie unfolded, she became a very sympathetic character.  It was not the hatchet job on her I had feared.  In fact, I quite grew to like her.

My other issue going in was watching Tom Hanks play Walt Disney.  Honestly, I never quite got over this.  I'm not saying his acting was bad; in fact, from what I've heard, he was outstanding in the part.  But he's not Disney, and it just never felt like anything other than an actor playing Walt Disney to me.  Yes, I fully understand that this is the DisNerd in me coming out, but I can't help it.

The acting was uniformly amazing.  Even though I could never forget it was Tom Hanks, I thought he was good.  I completely bought Emma Thompson as Mrs. Travers.  From the rest of the 1960's cast, my favorite was Paul Giamatti who played Mrs. Travers's driver.  The cast of the flashback sequences were quite good as well, especially Annie Rose Buckley who played the author as a girl.

Everyone I've talked to about the film talked about how moving the ending was and about how I'd need tissue.  Considering I cry in movies at the drop of a hat, I took that warning seriously.  Maybe it was because I was expecting it, but while I was certainly moved by what I saw, I didn't really cry.

Then again, maybe it was because of my issues with the film.  Let's start with my DisNerd nit picks.  There is a scene in the film set and filmed at Disneyland.  While I'd never been to Disneyland in 1961, I've seen enough pictures to know it was fake.  Oh, they filmed it at Disneyland, but that was the problem.  Too many changes to the park have been made since the 1960's, most noticeably the new Fantasyland.  Then, during the screening of the film that constitutes the climax, it they had a scene from Mary Poppins out of order.  It fit the dramatic arc they needed, but it bugged me.

On their own, those two issues wouldn't have been enough ruin the film.  I'd point them out and move on.  But there's the fact that the climax of the movie is a completely and total lie.  I knew much of the story portrayed in the film already, and I know how it really ends.  I get why they did what they did - it is much better thematically and dramatically.  However, it still bugs me and makes me wonder what else was made up for dramatic purposes.  Honestly, this may be one reason I wasn't as moved by the ending as I expected to be - I knew I was being manipulated, and that kind of thing always bugs me.

I realize I'm sounding harsh at this point.  Please don't misunderstand - the movie is good and worth seeing.  It's just my desire to correct things that are making me sound pretty forceful here.

The movie is rated PG-13, and parents should take that to heart.  There is a smattering of language and some pretty rough scenes.  It may be about a beloved film for all ages, but this is definitely aimed at adults.

So yes, I am glad I watched Saving Mr. Banks.  However, the ending, which most everyone else loved, keeps me from giving it a unreserved recommendation.

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