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.

The Upcoming Year in Musicals

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 29th December 2009.

Musical theatre fans have plenty to look forward to next year. With a few old favourites returning plus the Australian premiere of two exciting new productions, there is something for everyone, limited only by your budget.

For those who like to travel, there are many incentives to wander down south to Melbourne in 2010. Jersey Boys, the supremely entertaining jukebox musical based on the life and careers of Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons, continues to wow audiences at the Princess Theatre and most likely will not make the transfer to Sydney until 2011.

Mary Poppins, presented by musical theatre juggernaut, Cameron Mackintosh, and little known film production company, Disney, will make its Australian premiere in July at Her Majesty’s Theatre. With songs drawn from the 1964 Disney film, the storyline will follow the darker source material of P.L. Travers book. Starring Debra Byrne, Marina Prior, Philip Quast , Judi Connelli and So You Think You Can Dance judge Matt Lee as Bert (let’s hope his Cockney accent is better than Dick Van Dyke’s), the iconic titular role is yet to be cast. Trivia buffs will be interested to know that P.L. Travers, an Australian, hated the Disney film and stipulated in her will that only English born writers were to be involved in the creative process of adapting the movie for the stage.

Also making its Australian premiere in Melbourne will be The Drowsy Chaperone, winner of 5 Tony Awards in 2006, including Best Original Score and Best Book. Starring Geoffrey Rush and Rhonda Burchmore, it will have a limited engagement from January.

Sydney will also have its fair share of touring and long stay musicals next year. Wicked will continue its open ended run at the Capitol Theatre and the national tour of Mamma Mia will finish up at the Lyric Theatre in February.

Sydney Theatre Company will produce the Australian Premiere of Spring Awakening in February. With music by 90’s pop star Duncan Sheik, the alternative rock musical is set in late-nineteenth century Germany and focuses on a group of teenagers coming to grips, so to speak, with their sexuality. Winning 8 Tony Awards in 2007, including Best Musical, Best Book and Best Score, this controversial production is certainly not family friendly. Glee fans will be interested to know that Lea Michele (who plays Rachel Berry) starred in the original Broadway production.

Perennial musical favourites Cats and West Side Story will tour Australia next year. The Sydney season of Cats will open in May. This international touring production will certainly be dwarfed inside the cavernous Lyric Theatre but is sure to delight audiences of all ages. Following numerous Australian runs, 18 years on Broadway, 21 years in the West End and a local production by Orange Theatre Co in 2007, Cats definitely has nine lives.

West Side Story hits the Lyric Theatre at Star City in July (let’s hope it doesn’t leave its kids in the car). This seminal American musical, featuring timeless music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, will be choreographed by Joey McKneeley, who was personally chosen by original choreographer Jerome Robbins to recreate his steps. Auditions are now underway for Australian performers to join the cast.

Locally, audiences will also have a feast of shows to enjoy with Dusty The Original Pop Diva, Rent and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee all scheduled to be performed at the Orange Civic Theatre as part of the 2010 Subscription Season.

 As a lover of musicals, and with a trip to the West End also planned, 2010 is going to be a busy, and expensive, year for me.

Published in: on January 3, 2010 at 01:28  Leave a Comment  
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