I’m more than likely in the minority on this film, but I have a few problems with Saving Mr. Banks, in which Tom Hanks as Walt Disney is having difficulty with the prickly author of the book Mary Poppins, played by Emma Thompson, who wants to micromanage every aspect of the film’s production. If you have seen the trailer, it appears to be a feel-good tale of moviemaking surrounding one of the most beloved films ever made. What the trailer doesn’t reveal is that it’s really two films in one.
The rest of the story, to quote Paul Harvey, is that the person who eventually became the author P.L. Travers had a traumatic and troublesome childhood, and that the writing of Mary Poppins was her own type of in-house therapy in dealing with her past. Which is all well and good in understanding how someone became the person they are. Unfortunately, Saving Mr. Banks is like trying to cram ten pounds of stuff into a two-pound bag. I’m not averse to flashbacks, or flash forwards, or even telling a story out of sequence. But in this instance the flashbacks to turn of the century Australia are too many and too long, taking up at least half the screen time and becoming tiresome in the balance. The good news about that side of the story is it provides the two most engaging performances in the film. Colin Farrell delivers his best performance ever as the father of the imaginative young girl who will morph into the author P.L. Travers. Newcomer Annie Rose Buckley, who is a real find, beautifully plays her, as a child. She has a depth and understanding of the role, and the camera loves her. Here’s hoping it’s just the beginning of a brilliant career. But since her upbringing was problematic, it also makes for some of the saddest, most depressing scenes committed to film in a long while.
In the latter day portions of the film, Tom Hanks plays Walt Disney, and since the Disney studio produced this, you know this will not be a warts and all portrayal. Except for one or two scenes, Hanks seems to be channeling Rich Little doing Disney. One critic I just read said that Hanks’ accent seems to sound more like Lyndon Johnson than Walt Disney. Emma Thompson, as the adult P.L. Travers, is fine, although at times the shrillness of her personality becomes a bit much to bear. And the always-welcome Paul Giamatti seems to be in this tale just to be a ray of sunshine.
I’m not saying that Saving Mr. Banks is a bad film, but it may not be the film you’re expecting. It certainly surprised me, and my wife was very bothered by what she called the “bait-and-switch trailer.” She was expecting Mary Poppins, and Disney, and songs, and moviemaking. Instead she was handed this story of a young girl who had a difficult childhood and became a difficult adult who couldn’t get along with virtually anyone.
There are some laughs. There are some light moments. But the dark cloud of unhappiness shadows much of Saving Mr. Banks. I would also not recommend taking young children to see it, as there are some thematic elements that might be disturbing for them, hence the PG-13 rating.
Mr. Banks is being saved in pretty much every available plex in town.