Friday, December 20, 2013

Saving Mr. Banks - 3 1/2 stars

This is the story behind the movie Mary Poppins.  For 20 years, Walt Disney tried to get the rights to make the movie, while the author P. L. Travers resisted.  She didn't like movies to begin with, and she hated cartoons.  She was afraid Disney would turn her beloved creation into a light and fluffy kids movie.

Because she needs the money, she agrees to fly to Los Angeles and spend a couple weeks working on the script with writer Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford) and composers Richard and Robert Sherman (Jason Schwartzman and B. J. Novak).  What follows are a series of painful writing sessions where Travers (Emma Thompson) basically shoots down almost every idea they have.  She doesn't want Mary Poppins to be a musical, every detail has to be exact, and no cartoon penguins. 

Emma Thompson is wonderful in this role.  She plays the most stereotypically uptight British woman you can imagine.  She has no patience for pleasantries or small talk, and she seems to have no sense of humor.  She's even prickly to her friendly limo driver (Paul Giamatti).  But through flashbacks we see the troubled childhood she had, and we come to understand the inspiration for her stories.  Her father (Colin Farrell) plays her father, who worked at a bank and was an alcoholic. 

Tom Hanks plays Walt Disney, and I can't imagine anyone better for the role.  While he doesn't look exactly like him, he captures him perfectly.  It also doesn't hurt that like Walt Disney, Tom Hanks is something of a national treasure.  He speaks with this gentle midwestern tone that is so reassuring it's amazing Travers held out as long as she did. 

I loved this movie, but I thought the flashbacks hurt the pacing of the movie.  I was so engaged with the scenes of them working on Mary Poppins that I started to get annoyed every time the movie cut to Travers as a child.  I think the flashbacks took up at least 45 minutes of screen time, and I think we could have learned all we need to learn about her childhood in about 10 minutes.  Some of the scenes were nice, and I especially liked the way they cut back and forth between her father giving a speech about the bank and the song Fidelity Fiduciary Bank. 

So I loved the scenes with Travers and the writers, and the scenes with Travers and Disney together.  I also really liked Paul Giamatti's character.  He has a few really good scenes with Emma Thompson where he becomes her only real friend in LA.  I think this movie is going to do really well and it's safe for the whole family.  I think young kids may get bored by it, and it certainly doesn't hurt if you grew up watching Mary Poppins.  Highly recommended.

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