Saving Mr. Banks
Despite being one of my favorite childhood movies, there was a lot I didn’t know about Mary Poppins. For instance, it took over 20 years to convince author P.L. Travers to sell the rights – I had no idea! Fortunately, I read a bit about Travers and Poppins before seeing this saccharine er, “treat.” For my sake, let’s pretend that this wasn’t based on the true story of author P.L. Travers, because from what I’ve read about the real lady, a lot of stuff in the movie didn’t happen. Though admittedly, there are some applaudable attempts at homages – Travers not walking out of the premiere but still crying about the animation, for example. Other bits, such as the nanny and Ralph (Paul Giamatti) – though sweeter than a sugar-coated cotton candy teddy bear – appear to be entirely fictional. This aside, let’s get to the real nitty gritty of Saving Mr. Banks.
When we meet Travers (Emma Thompson), she is pondering about how cherry blossoms look like clams on sticks – a shining light that there’s still some whimsy in this crone. This light is immediately snuffed by scowls and furrowed brows as soon as we learn she is off to Los Angeles to discuss the film rights for the adaptation of Mary Poppins with Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) himself, who she is certain will turn her beloved nanny into an animated clown.
In fact, the only evidence we have of her ever experiencing happiness is by means of flashbacks – days of old in Queensland, spending time with her father (Colin Farrell). As these memories reemerge, they grow increasingly darker, and thus we learn why she desires complete control over this project – yearning for redemption for her father as well as herself in the process of immortalizing his memory. So it would seem, anyway.
Despite having such a talented ensemble, everyone seems like they’re trying too hard, maybe with the exception of Colin Farrell. As well as Schwartzman and Novak – I’d watch a movie on the Sherman Bros. Hanks and Giamatti milk that eye-twinkle for all its worth, while Thompson acts like a child who refuses to smile at a joke. Perhaps if she wasn’t so rigid from the get-go, we could get a better grasp at the fact that she’s a human being, not a horrible snow queen with a heart of gold. (Didn’t they just make that movie?)
Sorry to get back to the biographical falsehood, but shame on them for being too busy making Travers a curmudgeon instead of acknowledging that from her childhood spurred a life of many other stories as well as relationships, including an adoption – wait a second, Disney hasn’t featured an LGBT character yet, have they? Of course, I’m sure if they had incorporated that aspect of Travers’ life, there’d be controversy over the fact that not only was this character terribly one-dimensional, but they also had to make the bisexual as cold and bitter toward’s a famously benign man’s advancements as possible. Alas, this is Disney making a Disney movie about Disney and the importance of remembering the good parts of childhood and the power of nostalgia.
Wouldn’t you know it, somehow this film still manages to tug at your heartstrings, just a little bit. That’s probably because it hits you with every sentimental sucker-punch imaginable: loved Mary Poppins or even some of the songs? BAM Childhood far from perfect? POW Have you grown old and nostalgic? BIFF Are there things left unsaid to your family? KABLAM Mix that with a Sherman-fueled Thomas Newman score and some lovely camerawork and you have yourself a rather uninspired sapfest.
Final Grade: C+