Disney has been having stellar few years. Live action franchises selling well, good movies from their CG team have been charming critics and they actually managed to do a Pixar theme better than the Pixar movie. While their 2D animation department was shut down (which was an awful, awful move but none the less), Disney keeps producing quality content like they should.
Still, if there’s anything the mouse likes to hide under the rug is history, especially its own history. For example, did you know Lemmings don’t commit mass suicide by jumping off cliffs? A Disney nature documentary actually herded a horde of Lemmings to their deaths for dramatic tension. Another touchy subject in Disney’s history? The creation of the film version of Mary Poppins. Which is why it’s surprising that they made a movie about it…or is it?
Let’s take a look at Saving Mr. Banks.
Saving Mr. Banks is the story about how Disney acquired the rights to make the film version of Mary Poppins, which was quite a battle seeing as the author, P.L. Travers did not want to give her consent. She visited Disney studios to try and sort things out, though there was a lot of creative head-butting. In real life, Travers ultimately hated the production and disapproved of the movie. In the film, it’s left a little…ambiguous, so to speak, though really leaning more favorably towards Disney. The script is solid, engaging even so even if there wasn’t the historical context, it would still be a very good movie.
Tom Hanks is phenomenal in his role as Walt Disney, the aging animated dynasty ruler who charms the pants off everyone he meets … except for Travers, of course. He does a lot with the very clean-image Disney, giving him notes of a manipulative attitude, subtle business sense and even a downright coldness in some scenes. If Tom Hanks is phenomenal, then Emma Thompson is a perfect fit as P.L. Travers. The hurt, the stubborn attitude, the buried sadness, the intense negative reactions to everything is just the most engaging performance, getting the straight-laced attitude down to a T. I don’t know if they are Oscar-worthy, but these are two performances for the history books.
The other actors are pretty great, like Jason Schwartzman and B. J. Novak as the Sherman brothers who composed the film and Colin Farrell as Traver’s father. Some people were disturbed by the interspersing of Traver’s back story with the Disney plot line but to me, it just seemed like a natural progression. It wouldn’t have been as emotionally effective if they have dumped it on all at once. One thing I love is in the beginning you see Travers throwing pears from her hotel window, which makes her seem insane but later on, you see that the last thing her father asked her for before his death was pears, which she could not bring in time. It all tied back together which made the story both relevant and interesting.
In terms of visuals, it’s all bright Disney colors, clean costuming, even the stuff that was supposed to be gritty in the Australian outback. That’s not to say it’s an ugly film but it has a thin veneer of plastic around it, kept in a pristine quality that keeps it from feeling real. It’s not a bad decision, since it’s the easiest way to show that its the 1960s, but it just feels too clean. If the script wasn’t so well written and performances so solid, this would have lulled me to sleep.
What this movie boils down is well-done emotional manipulation. It knows how to tug at your heart strings and it knows the right time to pull hard. A lot of people have described it as a two-hour commercial for Disney and I would have to agree. But in an age where commercials are more like films, that’s not exactly an insult. It’s well-crafted and genuinely elicits real emotions. The problem is that it feels like Disney trying to rewrite their own history a little bit with this movie. Disney is known for making memorable films — I still know people who think that Pocahontas is how it really happened. So I am a little skeptical about saying this was a good thing for Disney to do and not a revisionist one.
Overall, Saving Mr. Banks knows what it is and sticks to its strength. It’s heart-warming and tear-jerking at the right times, making it a great movie for the holiday season but could come off as overly cheesy if watched at other times of the year. It’s a well written, fun movie but it’s obvious Oscar bait that is going to fall flat in terms of Best Picture.
– Great acting.
– Great script.
– Well crafted overall.
– A little Hallmarky.
– Not visually interesting.