Film Review: Saving Mr Banks

This film review was posted on the Orange Post on Sunday 19th January 2014.

I saw Saving Mr Banks several days ago and the sense of satisfaction that I experienced as I departed the cinema has since dissipated. The more I think of this biopic, the more problematic the film and it’s plot holes seem to be.

That’s not to say that the film is not an enjoyable look at the making of one of the most beloved children’s films ever. I am really drawn to films about the making of films. And Emma Thompson gives a powerhouse performance as the acerbic author of the Mary Poppins books, Australian born P.L. Travers. It’s just that a Disney produced biopic about a Disney produced film is not a good sign of an objective warts and all portrayal of real life events.

For instance, Walt DIsney himself was present for Travers’ arrival in Los Angeles, however he soon left California to avoid having to deal with the difficult author. In this film, Disney is a constant presence. I guess there is no use in paying Tom Hanks to be a supporting player.

Rumours persist that Walt Disney was a misogynist, a racist and an anti-Semite, with Disney’s own grandniece supporting these allegations. It’s not surprise then that Tom Hank’s portrayal of Disney is instead the caring fatherly figure that we all imagine the creator of Mickey Mouse and Disneyland to be. Fair enough that Hanks has picked up the unique walk and smoker’s cough but if you’re going to show Travers with all her irrational ideas and quirks, then why DIsney-fy Disney?

The scenes where Travers picks apart the work of composers The Sherman Brothers (B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman) and writer Don Dagradi (Bradley Whitford) are great fun. Her demands such as the colour red not appearing in the film and her objections to lead actor Dick Van Dyke demonstrate how protective the author was about her famous character. However, the script by Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith lets the film down by never resolving these demands. Obviously Dick Van Dyke starred in Mary Poppins and no primary colours were missing in the sets and costumes so how was Travers convinced to sign off on the rights?

Travers was born in Maryborough, Queensland, and unlike the Disneyland and Disney Studios scenes which are appropriately recreated, or in the case of Disneyland simply aged back to 1961, the Australian components of the film disappointingly look like the backlot of Universal Studios (which it actually was).

The flashback structure explaining Travers’ love and dedication to her alcoholic father (Colin Farrell) is a little clunky but leads to a nice revelation at the end and goes some way to explaining many of the aspects of the Mary Poppins persona, on page and on screen. Less effective is the kind hearted limo driver (Paul Giamatti) who was created for the film for Travers to warm to, and therefore defrost in the eyes of the audience.

Saving Mr Banks wears its heart on its sleeve, much like Mary Poppins the movie. Despite some great performances, you can’t help but feel that the filmmakers aren’t quite telling you everything.

Apparently P.L. Travers travelled to Ireland to adopt twins but returned with only one. This son ended up an alcoholic, and eventually met his own twin by accident. He too was an alcoholic. There’s a much more powerful film there already.

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