REVIEW: Saving Mr. Banks

9 01 2014

I’m a firm believer in the magical power of cinema, in case you hadn’t figured it out by the fact that I take the time to write this blog. Few films, however, have really shown the true enchantment of the movies on screen. Recently, the dancing scene in “The Artist” and the storyboard scene in “Argo” have illustrated it well.

Now, add to that list the scene in “Saving Mr. Banks” where Emma Thompson’s P.L. Travers gives herself over to the undeniable charm of “Let’s Go Fly a Kite,” a song being written for the film adaptation of her “Mary Poppins” books. The curmudgeonly writer shoots down idea after idea from the composing team of the Sherman brothers (Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak) and writer Don DeGradi (Bradley Whitford). Yet when they play the tune for her, we get to watch Travers’ heart melt before our eyes. They all dance and sing with such passionate mirth that I found myself moved to the brink of tears.

The film presents the captivating narrative of how Travers came to Hollywood in order to maintain the artistic integrity of her books from the kitsch of Walt Disney, an American icon fittingly portrayed Tom Hanks. She scoffs at any attempt to make the film have the saccharine appeal of his other movies: no singing, no animation, and Mary Poppins is not to be sweet.

Saving Mr. Banks

Obviously, we all know how it plays out, but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable to watch the creative process at work. Thompson perfectly channels the horror of British sophistication coming into contact with American schlock. Hanks brilliantly counters her grouchiness with the avuncular charm of Disney incarnate, although it does feel like a bit of a caricature at times.

Everything “Saving Mr. Banks” does so wonderfully, however, is undercut by heavy-handed flashbacks to show why Travers’ childhood with her erratic and unstable alcoholic father (Colin Farrell). These scenes interrupt the narrative randomly and persistently, halting any momentum the film’s main narrative manages to build. They ultimately overpower present-day Travers and make the film’s conclusion a rather maudlin affair, but that doesn’t erase the joy of watching “Mary Poppins” come together from a unique behind-the-scenes perspective. B2halfstars

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