It may come as a surprise, especially when you look at all the blockbusters that Hollywood releases nowadays, but there once was a time where movies were entertaining due to the charm of its actors and the wit of the writing. “Saving Mr. Banks” not only is such a film, but it depicts the making of one as well.
Tom Hanks stars as Walt Disney, who is struggling to get the film rights for Mary Poppins from author P.L. Travers, played by Emma Thompson. Disney then invites Travers to Los Angeles in an attempt to persuade her. John Lee Hancock directs.
When depicting a real life person in a film, there are so many things that an actor has to get just right, because there is an actual template that they must follow. Both Hanks and Thompson nail their portrayals of their respective historical figures, from Walt Disney’s Midwestern drawl and signature mustache to P.L. Travers’ gleeful nagging and British tone. Both actors become the people they are portraying and are joys to watch.
The real standout of the film, however, is Colin Farrell, who plays Travers’ alcoholic father. Farrell is nothing short of fantastic playing a man whose disease is slowly separating him from his family, but he still has love for his daughters. Farrell provides the film with the majority of its emotion, both laughter and sadness.
Now this may be produced by Disney and be about the making of a children’s movie, but “Mr. Banks” is not all cotton candy and rainbows. There are some seriously deep, almost depressing moments involving Travers and her father, which is both a strength and fault of the film.
While the more heavy tone is handled well and keeps the movie from being too over-the-top schmaltzy, it sometimes comes without warning and the tonal shift may take the viewer out of the film. Once again, it was done very well by Farrell and the director Hancock, just, you know, heads up.
Of course the movie is not 100% historically accurate and the portrayals of the characters are idealized, particularly that of Walt Disney. I mean, the movie is being produced by Disney, so I doubt they are going to show the side of Walt that was a ruthless businessman who was hesitant to give any creative say to a headstrong woman. But that “sanitation” is expected, and Hanks does a good job at showing us the side of Walt Disney that society wants to see.
“Saving Mr. Banks” features great performances across the board, including B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman as the musical Sherman brothers and Paul Giamatti as Travers’ limo driver. Director John Lee Hancock handles most of the dramatic scenes with finesse, and the Mary Poppins songs will keep you humming long after you’ve left the theater. Sure, it may be Oscar-bait, but it is a well-executed film and fun to watch Hanks and Thompson go back and forth. And in a world of sequels and big budget blockbusters, that is good enough for me.
Critics Rating: 8/10