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July 04, 2022

Saving Mr. Banks: Movie Review

By Bernie Pilarski

We did not go to see Hobbit:Redux because, well ... there were a couple reasons, including our social secretary just couldn't fit it and a nap into the same time slot as the cheap showing at the theater, but you shouldn't take that as a criticism of the movie. This is part two of a four-parter with part one a Christmas present last year and parts three and four due out December 2014 and 2015. These will be good films, each and every one. Peter Jackson is a consummate film maker, and The Hobbit is a great story. I can just about guarantee that you will not be disappointed if you go, as I am sure that I will not be when I get around to going.

Might be just me, or I might be exhibiting an unanticipated reaction to the spat of trilogy-type movies coming out. I really liked Jackson's Lord of the Ring trilogy, and I am following The Hunger Games four-parter, but I just don't have a sense of urgency in seeing The Hobbit. I'll get around to it. I will. Before next Christmas, I promise. But in the meantime ...

Sand and I went off to see Saving Mr. Banks. This is a Disney Studios movie that had a production budget of $35 million. Given some of its recent output, it seemed like the people at Disney Studios can't have breakfast for less than $35 million, so I wonder if they didn't do this movie just to see if they could. I can imagine the Disney execs giggling as they gave director John Lee Hancock the assignment. They probably wagered amongst themselves how long it would take Hancock to come back to ask for an additional hundred million or so.

Actually, from what I've read, Disney had minimal input in the filmmaking. The project was developed and brought to the screen by the folks at Ruby Films and Essential Media and Entertainment with some BBC money thrown in to boot. Disney did, however, agree to the project, granted access to archival material pertinent to the subject, and apparently delivered up Tom Hanks as the only actor ever permitted to portray Walt on screen.

Saving Mr. Banks is a) the story of the challenge Walt Disney faced in getting Pamela Travers to agree to sell him the film rights to her "Mary Poppins" books; b) the story of the struggles Pamela Travers had in trying to maintain the artistic integrity of her books in the face of a formidable onslaught of by the juggernaut of the commercially slick and savvy Walt Disney Productions; and c) the story of the struggles of Pamela Travers trying to deal with the emotional turmoil that surfaces when having run out of money, she must face the prospect of the commercialization of the stories that held intimate secrets of her troubled childhood.

After twenty years of refusing Disney's requests for rights to the material, Travers finally agrees to spend two weeks in California at the Disney studios discussing the possibility of the making of a movie. She is a surly, proud woman, disdainful of the Disney enterprises and absolutely determined that if the film is to be made, it must meet her exacting expectations, including that it not be a musical and that under no circumstances that it be a "cartoon." She is prim and proper, very English, and that is a style that clashes immediately and often with the casual and easy style of the Disney team, and especially with Walt himself who calls her Pam instead of Mrs. Travers, and who is unflagging in his optimism about a project that she considers to be fatally flawed. Travers fiercely protects her stories because they are for her a kind of coping mechanism that has allowed her to deal with the trauma of dealing with her father's alcoholism and her mother's attempted suicide, that part of the story laid out in a series of well integrated flashbacks. It is only after Travers storms out of the Disney studios and returns to England with no agreement that Walt begins to understand what Travers is trying to do.

This is a flawless movie. It is a meaty and complex story, told very well. It has a clean visual style that enhances the intimacy of the story by liberally focusing on the tight shots on the characters that allows the viewer to watch the emotions of the actors. And the casting is magic. While there is not a weak performance in the bunch, Tom Hanks as Disney and Emma Thompson as Travers are pure and simple genius. There is a scene late in the film when Disney follow Travers back to London in a last ditch attempt to convince her that he understands her concerns and will respect them. They are seated in the parlor of Travers home having tea. Hanks is so completely Disney, and Thompson is so completely Travers that there is a sense that the real story is playing out in front of you, not just some reenactment. The viewer has become the fly on the wall and is seeing history unfold.

There is no doubt in my mind that this movie is going to be showing up in a lot of Oscar categories this year. Best movie? Maybe. Best screenplay? I think so. Best actor/actress? Real possibilities.

If you get a chance, go see this movie. It's worth every penny. And Disney execs, you could make seven movies like this with the money you spent on John Carter and still have a chunk of change left in your pockets. Just sayin'.

Article © Bernie Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2013-12-23
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