Going into this film, it is easy to think that it will be filled with Disney promotions left and right, and almost be a ploy to get you to the nearest Disney theme park following your showing but for the most part it wasn’t. What it was is a look at the acquisition and the strenuous process that Disney went through to get the rights for “Mary Poppins” that by the end I kind of questioned, why?
Saving Mr. Banks follows P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) as she reluctantly listens to Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) who tries to get her book, “Mary Poppins,” off the pages and onto screen all over the world. Travers is a very hard person to sell thanks to her incredibly unlikable personality and her obsessive need to be proper at all times. This is where the movie kicks off and because of that, it took me awhile to really get into the story. Travers was just unlikable at the beginning that I never really wanted to root for her.
It’s funny because just yesterday I went and saw Nebraska where Bruce Dern played a character that was not incredibly likable but what that movie did better than this one was that he gradually showed signs of breaking that mold as well as having the other characters realize that he wasn’t all that bad, and he was that way for a reason. Saving Mr. Banks tries to do that through flashbacks that come periodically through the film but what makes that so difficult is that they are so scattered that it disrupts the flow of the movie.
In the flashbacks, we learn about Travers’ past in Australia, particularly her childhood and her relationship with her father (Colin Farrell). While this is important to know and should have been in the movie, having it pop up every once in awhile screwed up the pacing of the main story and was what made the film seem so convoluted. We would be in the middle of a scene with Travers and then whisk away to her childhood for two minutes before going back to the narrative present. It was confusing and the constant stopping and starting of the film made it seem poorly made.
The acting was good. Thompson and Hanks both did a great job in the roles and the array of side characters really made the film. I think they are where the humor comes from because while Travers is being a complete jerk to everyone, the reactions from characters played by Jason Schwartzman, B.J. Novak, and Bradley Whitford makes up for the horrible treatment. Paul Giamatti shows up as her driver and was one of the more pleasant people in the film as he tries to work off of Travers’ hostility. A small non-romantic relationship between them blooms and it was nice to see her break away from the person she was at the beginning.
Not to say that she never gets better, the character does improve by the end of the film but the build-up and payoff is not worth what we had to endure for the first hour or so of the film.
One bright spot though was the magnificent score by Thomas Newman, who really needs to be doing more work. Following last year’s fantastic Skyfall score, Newman catches the magic of Disney and Mary Poppins but also tries to mesh that all with his own original sound. The score is lovely and the infused pieces from the Mary Poppins film helps to make fans of the film happy to see it connected.
Saving Mr. Banks tries hard to be something great but struggles to capture the spirit and fun that was Mary Poppins. A little bit of more work on the flashbacks and characters could of made for a very memorable film, instead you’re left with some Disney plot to make you want to relive the magic. Actually that did work, I do want to watch Mary Poppins now.