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Saving Mr. Banks

Alright, first things first…this is not as horrendous as director John Lee Hancock’s “The Blind Side” from 2009. That unwatchable piece of excrement won Sandra Bullock an Oscar, and made a small fortune at the box office. No matter, it’s atrocious. The heartwarming story of a well-to-do white, southern family that took in an African-American giant, and made him a football star. Fans of this bilge have hit me with the old “it’s a true story” nonsense, to which the answer is that I bet the real story bore only minimal resemblance to what eventually made it to the screen. Questions? See “Argo”. But I long ago came to the conclusion that audiences love to be lied too. So, I give you the latest pile of bullshit to capture people’s fancy and get them all misty-eyed for a “simpler” time…”Saving Mr. Banks”. Presenting itself as the true tale of how Walt Disney doggedly pursued “Mary Poppins” author P.L. Travers in his quest to bring her penned creation to the big screen, you’ll know, without any research at all, that half of what you are being told belongs in Fantasyland. Then upon the teensiest bit of Googling, you quickly discover just how full of crap this ridiculous movie is. Btw, the rest of this review will be chuck full of spoilers, so if you intend to see the film and be “surprised”…you should stop reading now. But then you’ll miss all the fun.

So, I can buy the part where Mr. Disney(Tom Hanks, playing it to the rafters)flies Ms. Travers(Emma Thompson, a wonderful actress slumming as a reclusive, English caricature here)to California to coerce her into signing on the dotted line and make millions. But things almost immediately go awry. Travers manages to fuss and wince and badger and tsk at every single thing everyone around her throws her way. Yet they all treat her with the utmost kindness and good will throughout her snooty tirades. Does any of this represent how actual people behave? And is there any possible way to buy the kindly, sentimental limo driver,(with a handicapped daughter, of course!)portrayed by Paul Giamatti, that’s assigned to Ms. Travers while she’s in the good old U. S. of A? I mean, shouldn’t the filmmakers have to work a bit harder than this? We all know the final outcome of this story, after all—right? Travers signs, “Mary Poppins” is made, it’s a huge critical and financial success, and everyone lives happily ever after, correct? Well, no. You witness in the film how they belabor that whole theme of Travers not wanting animation in the finished product. Yeah, well, she actually never gives up on the whole thing in real life. She was appalled that cartoon characters were included. Because of it, she never let the Walt Disney Company produce a sequel to the film. “Saving Mr. Banks”, on the other hand, would have you believe that she wept with joy at the star-studded premiere in 1964, and even found herself guided to her seat by Mickey Mouse, himself(they should hand out either barf bags or insulin shots for that scene alone). Oh, and Walt Disney never flew to London at the last-minute to personally invite Travers to said premiere. She was actually never sent an invitation and had to go through some hardship to get herself a ticket.* You see, the real story is much more interesting, isn’t it? But for some reason, Hollywood always wants to sugarcoat this stuff. A spoonful, indeed.

And then we get the interspersed back story scenes of Travers as a little girl with her family, living in a small, almost rural area, where her Dad works as a banker. Pops is played by the superb Colin Farrell, but unfortunately every single scene involving him is shamelessly manipulative. Dad is a wonderful man you see, but he’s a horrible drunk. And it ruins his life, his career and his family. At one point his health gets so bad that Travers’ family has to hire a nanny—aaahhhhhh! Really, if you are going to fall for this stuff, and inform me that I’m crazy for not enjoying this sweet, little fable…then I honestly don’t know what to say. It’s competently directed and slickly produced, but it doesn’t have a candid emotion in its over two-hour running time. The scenes involving the songwriters(Bradley Whitford, Jason Schwartzman & B.J. Novak)have some vitality to them, but(again)—it’s as if they are covered in rock candy. It’s all just too sweet and too gooey and too innutritious for adult consumption. But, if you must, go right ahead. Just don’t say that you weren’t warned.     Grade:  C-

next review up:  “Museum Hours”

*editor’s note: the astute Simon Parris has informed me that I have remembered this scene incorrectly, and I stand corrected on my error. You can read the details of this mistake in the commentary section.   ML

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2 comments on “Saving Mr. Banks

  1. Hey Mark, if you are looking for unrealistic moments here, you cannot go past the fair in Australia where someone had a kangaroo on a lead! I have definitely never seen that in my 45 years in Australia!

    I think I enjoyed the movie more than you, though the fact that they left it that Travers enjoyed the movie was patently false. They could film a sequel about Cameron Mackintosh going through the same drama to get the rights to make the musical Mary Poppins.

    One aspect I am not clear of in your review – you refer to it being wrong that Walt flew to London to invite her, but this is not why he went there in the movie. It was to finally convince her to sign. She was shown to be not invited to the premiere and to have some difficulty getting to attend. And I hope you noticed that there was a photo of the actual PL Travers with Mickey in the final credits! (could have been at Disneyland I guess)

    The next movie I am looking forward to is August: Osage County, but it comes here in two days and I leave for London today. Then it comes out in London two days after I leave to come home! I hope you will be reviewing that one.

    • Simon, you are absolutely right that I remembered the London scene the wrong way—and I stand corrected. I will try and make amends by putting an editor’s note at the end of the story. My memory is pretty accurate, but I occasionally slip up. Thanks for the assist! And I did watch the end credits, but assumed that Mickey escorting Travers into the premiere was complete fabrication. If someone presents evidence that I’m mistaken, I’ll eat crow again! But I think I’m correct on that one.

      As for the movie itself, there were times where I almost did get sucked in. I made sure to state up front that it wasn’t as bad a film as the director’s last. But that Paul Giamatti character was so lazily written, and the flashback scenes were so awful. Plus, the Thompson and Hanks characterizations never seemed like actual human beings to me, so it was difficult to admire the performances. And “Howards End” was my favorite film of the 1990’s—so I adore Emma!

      Finally, I do have a screener for “August: Osage County”, so I will be getting to it soon. I was so enthralled with the Broadway version of it a few seasons back, but I’ve heard a lot of negativity regarding the film adaptation. Hopefully, it will defy the buzz. I promise that review for January, and good luck on seeing it when your travel schedule abates. Thanks for your finely, detailed commentary—and I’ll try to make my slip-ups few and far between! ML

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