Movies: Saving Mr Banks Review (or “The Writers of Hitchcock Should Watch This And Learn”)

I wouldn’t go as far as to say I’m a Disneyphile – their movies aren’t necessarily ones I would go out of my way to watch – but I love Walt Disney World and I have some pretty nifty memorabilia kicking about my house. Above my desk here for example I have framed old-fashioned attraction posters for Pirates of the Caribbean and Splash Mountain.

On top of that, I’ve always had an interest in the stories behind how films or TV shows are made. They tend to be – or at least have the potential to be – good period pieces that tell an absorbing tale.

So Saving Mr. Banks is one picture I’ve been looking forward to seeing…even though I haven’t seen Mary Poppins in almost 20 years.

Saving Mr Banks Review: What’s It About?

The true story of Walt Disney’s attempts to woo the writer of Mary Poppins – Mrs P. L. Travers – into handing over the rights to the movie.

Through a series of flashbacks to her childhood, we discover that the relationship between her and her father plays a major part in her hesitance to let Disney take the project on.

Saving Mr. Banks Review: Who’s In It?

Starring Tom Hanks as Walt Disney and Emma Thompson as Travers, it also includes recognisable names like Bradley Whitford (The West Wing), B. J. Novak (The Office), Ruth Wilson (Luther – and it was bugging me not being able to placeSaving_Mr._Banks_Theatrical_Poster her in the cinema) and Hollywood stars Colin Farrell and Paul Giamatti.

So a pretty strong cast then.

Saving Mr. Banks Review: How Highly Is It Rated?

Well received by the critics, but with comparatively few votes on the big websites, Saving Mr Banks gets 7.5/10 on imdb and a 92% audience appreciation figure on Rotten Tomatoes

Thoughts – The Flashback Necessity

Earlier this year I was excited to see Hitchcock, as to me that was a story that had potential. But instead of focusing on how Psycho was brought to the screen – which was what it was marketed as – it instead wasted so much time on Hitchcock’s relationship with his wife, and as a result, what was supposed to be the main thrust of the plot took a back seat.

So that was in the back of my mind when going to see Saving Mr. Banks.

But thankfully, my worries were unfounded.

While Saving Mr. Banks devotes around half the screen time to flashbacks of Travers’s childhood in Australia at the turn of the 20th century and her relationship with her alcoholic dreamer of a father (the impressive Colin Farrell), it was necessary to the movement of the plot – as well as the motives and reasoning behind her manner in her adult life – and meant there was a continuous flow to the movie.

And those flashback scenes that showed the gradual decline of her father and the way the younger her coped with it, were actually quite emotional. Nicely done.

The Disney Stuff

Key to the quality of Saving Mr Banks though is the stuff set in 1960s Los Angeles at the Disney studios.

The first thing that struck me was the costume and set design, which seemed spot on. But would you expect anything less from a collaboration between Walt Disney Studios and BBC Films?

In particular, I thought the way they managed to transform Disneyland so it looked like it did back in the early 60s was fascinating. Even the little things like the more primitive cuddly toys were done right.

The casting too was top-notch, with Hanks and Thompson both playing their leading roles with aplomb. Though it’s difficult not to look at Hanks and just think “That’s Tom Hanks with a Walt Disney moustache”, you’ve still got to admire him as an actor. Looks aside, he’s completely different in this to his performance in Captain Phillips.

But it wasn’t just them; the rest of the cast all brought something to the table and it’s great to see Bradley Whitford – my favourite West Wing actor my a distance – back on our screens.

Aoart from all of that though, Saving Mr Banks succeeded where Hitchcock failed in my opinion in that it managed to be about what it said it was about; the story of the making of Mary Poppins.

That’s what drove the plot along, and that’s where the most interesting parts of the movie were. Travers’s objections to casting, animation, word choice, songs and even the colour red were intriguing – especially knowing how Mary Poppins turned out – and the exasperation of her American opponents at Disney to her objectionable behaviour was amusing.

If I was to criticise it for anything though, it would be that the ending perhaps didn’t reflect reality, with Travers ultimately being happy with the film. As far as I’m aware, she wasn’t – especially with the animation – and thus refused to work with Disney again.

But I suppose it’s a Disney film, so while they did a good job of showing the story from both sides up to a point, they were never going to finish it on the note of “Wow, Walt Disney double crossed her; what a bastard”. I mean…they refused to even show the man smoking – a key part of who he was and ultimately how he died – although they got round that by having him coughing his smoker’s cough as he approached rooms or when he was out of shot. And I bet they only agreed to that through gritted teeth!

Regardless though, it didn’t spoil the tone of the film or my enjoyment.

Saving Mr Banks Review: Final Thoughts

Going all the way back to the first movie review I did back in January 2011, I’ve stressed how important the Clock Test is. There’s no greater compliment I can give a film than that I was able to sit through it and stay captivated without checking my watch at any point.

And that’s what happened with Saving Mr Banks.

The time flew past.

I found it a highly enjoyable movie and would recommend it to anyone who appreciates good storytelling, period design or has an interest in the development of a film like Mary Poppins.

Great stuff.

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