Title: Saving Mr. Banks
Is This The Sequel To Saving Private Ryan? I only hope it inspired similar porn parody titles.
Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: Two penguins out of five.
Brief Plot Synopsis: Children's book author locks horns with Walt Disney, who cons her into giving up the rights to her beloved character,
Tagline: "Where her book ended, their story began."
Better Tagline: "A spoonful of sugar isn't enough to help this movie go down."
Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Australian author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) has been fending off attempts by Disney to secure the rights to her book, Mary Poppins for years. But now dwindling royalties have finally forced her to meet with the man behind Big Mouse, Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) himself. And Disney is prepared to pull out all the stops to sway Travers, who has deeply personal reasons for being so protective of her character.
"Critical" Analysis: One can acknowledge that a film is professionally made, competently directed, and features fine performances, yet still be full of shit.
But more on that later. The main takeaway here is that Saving Mr. Banks is a mediocre and heavy-handed film, featuring several good performances (and one great one), which barely qualifies as a "movie to take your family to over the holidays when you're sick of talking to them." The cast, including Jason Schwartzman, B.J. Novak (composers Richard and Robert Sherman), and the always watchable Bradley Whitford, (co-writer Don DaGradi) are solid. But the only reason I'd even consider recommending Saving Mr. Banks is Emma Thompson. Travers was off-putting, to put it mildly, but Thompson refuses to make her a one-note character, instead effortlessly and incrementally drawing out why the creation of Mary Poppins is so important to her, and why she's so reluctant to relinquish control.
Which brings us to the main problem. A certain amount of rewriting is inevitable in any biopic, with the spectrum running from hilariously incorrect (Braveheart) to mild shrugs (anachronistic language in Lincoln). Saving Mr. Banks skews toward the former, which is maddening considering how much more powerful the film would've been had it stayed true to actual events.
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Travers *hated* Disney's adaptation. She hated the animation, the watering down of the title character, and "made up" words like "responstable" and "supercalifragiwhatsis." Do you know why there were no more Mary Poppins movies? Possibly because going straight-to-DVD was impossible in the 1960s, but of equal likelihood because Travers was so pissed off by the original finished product she refused to allow adaptations of the four other exisiting books (there would eventually be eight).
And yet Walt Disney, Inc. insists Travers' heart swelled three sizes when both Uncle Walt and the fictional Ralph the Beatific Chauffeur (Paul Giamatti, seriously, I thought he was going to dissolve into the ether when his final scene ended) explain in small words why her story needs to be marketed to children. Presumably because she's too female, or British (or both), to grasp this.
The movie doesn't just whitewash actual events, it betrays what could have been a much more emotional and affecting film. But that's what Disney does: repurpose darker narratives and make them palatable for mass audiences (choosing The Blind Side's John Lee Hancock to helm this now makes perfect sense). What a predictable waste. Still, anything to sell those 50th anniversary Blu-rays, right?
Saving Mr. Banks is in theaters today. Go fly a kite instead.