It’s rather strange when you hear that the premise of a film is based around the making of an older release. Whether it is based on a book or an article or other such things, there is a tangible sense of intrigue to the whole thing. All sorts of questions that are never usually raised by movies get asked in a way that only usually applies if you have a deeper interest into the medium and subject.
With Disney’s wide history of films, it was inevitable at least one story would eventually be told and as it turns out Saving Mr. Banks, the story of how E.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) went to Hollywood to see her book Mary Poppins being made into a film (and being appalled by the results) is that very story.
When Travers is eventually convinced to go to Hollywood to at least listen to what Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) and his team are proposing to do with her cherished book, she couldn’t be any less supportive, and immediately set about making changes because of the lack of proper English in use not meeting with her personal standards and and social class. Her objections are understandable, and make her into a funny, interesting protagonist despite the risk of her outlandish demands and outspoken nature running the risk of making her unlikeable.
A subplot tells us about Travers’ childhood in Australia in the 1900s and about her family’s move from their grand suburban home to a rural location resulting from her Father’s job. These scenes feel like a different movie but very much in a positive way, providing a change of pace at first that mingles with the rest of the movie and helps to push the story along as it builds to the conclusion.
Authenticity is vital to a successful period piece and a key component in really drawing the audience into a film and pleasingly Saving Mr. Banks provides a great sensation of being a part of 1960s Hollywood as well as early-1900s Australia with some fine set direction and design contributing fully to he world presented by the film. It would have been much simpler to just have an office and slapped some toys on the desk but hard work and care was taken even down to small details of Walt’s workplace and their staging. Movies of this calibre often feature pleasing touches like this, but rarely to the rewarding degree shown here.
It could have also easily been a movie full of references and jokes about Dick Van Dyke’s accent but the humour has much more thought put into it, with jokes being appealing to those familiar with the movie but also pleasing to those less familiar as it boils down to simply well written dialogue. There are genuinely funny and awkward moments, and even moments of some cynicism that separate it from other movies in this category.
Thompson and Hanks are very strong as the leads, Hanks in particular is a much more well rounded Walt Disney than had been expected, ably demonstrating the confusion about Travers’ complaints and dismissal of what he wants to achieve. The rest of the all star cast pull their weight too, with Paul Giamatti, Jason Schwartzman, Bradley Witford and B.J. Novak shown great chemistry in their scenes together.
The strongest of all the performances however, is Colin Farrell, who has gone well outside his comfort zone in the role of Travers’ Father Robert. Travers’ relationship with her Father is key to the film and the evolution of Mary Poppins and Farrell works hard to in producing a character that makes use of a vivid imagination despite being given to drink and enforcing upheaval in the lives of his family because of his failure to sustain a job. The only black mark was that chemistry with Ruth Wilson as his wife seemed to be lacking, with her character being somewhat underused in spite of her talents.
With the Blu-Ray re-release of Mary Poppins coming to the UK for the same price as this film, a case could be made that for this film being a cynical cash in from a company wielding control over he cherished family film and that the real value would be in treating this release as an internal Disney project rather then an independent one. Focusing on it can hamper the credibility of Saving Mr. Banks somewhat but at the same time, at no point did it feel as though the audience was being forcefed at all.
Despite this possibility of upset being caused though, this is a well acted, well put together film that while not blowing the competition away or breaking any new ground, manages to keep your interest with an intriguing story and a fascinating set of characters. Above all else, it’ll leave you with a smile, and more than likely humming ‘Let’s go fly a kite’ as you walk out of the theatre.