Friday, December 13, 2013

Saving Mr. Banks Movie Review

Tom Hanks & Emma Thompson (r) in Saving Mr. Banks

She Has Final Say

Nothing says Christmas like alcoholism, attempted suicide and downright malevolence... don't you agree? John Lee Hancock's Saving Mr. Banks shows the lengths one man will travel, to convince a reluctant storyteller to share her tale of joy (and sorrow) with the world... Disney style. The result is a drink that's one-fourth syrupy sweet and three-quarters arsenic, a mix that seems to appeal to many critics (some who have labeled it as one of the year's best.) Not me however, outside of three sterling performances by stars Emma ThompsonTom Hanks and Colin Farrell.

Rotten Tomatoes Plot: Two-time Academy Award-winner Emma Thompson and fellow double Oscar-winner Tom Hanks topline Disney's "Saving Mr. Banks," inspired by the extraordinary, untold backstory of how Disney's classic "Mary Poppins" made it to the screen. When Walt Disney's daughters begged him to make a movie of their favorite book, P.L. Travers' "Mary Poppins," he made them a promise-one that he didn't realize would take 20 years to keep. In his quest to obtain the rights, Walt comes up against a curmudgeonly, uncompromising writer who has absolutely no intention of letting her beloved magical nanny get mauled by the Hollywood machine. But, as the books stop selling and money grows short, Travers reluctantly agrees to go to Los Angeles to hear Disney's plans for the adaptation. For those two short weeks in 1961, Walt Disney pulls out all the stops. Armed with imaginative storyboards and chirpy songs from the talented Sherman brothers, Walt launches an all-out onslaught on P.L. Travers, but the prickly author doesn't budge. He soon begins to watch helplessly as Travers becomes increasingly immovable and the rights begin to move further away from his grasp. It is only when he reaches into his own childhood that Walt discovers the truth about the ghosts that haunt her, and together they set Mary Poppins free to ultimately make one of the most endearing films in cinematic history. Inspired by true events, "Saving Mr. Banks" is the extraordinary, untold story of how Disney's classic "Mary Poppins" made it to the screen-and the testy relationship that the legendary Walt Disney had with author P.L. Travers that almost derailed it.

What’s Best: Thompson and Hanks play the dickens out of their respective characters... no surprise to folks like me, who place them near (or at) the top of the actor ranks. Thompson's part allows for near-devilish execution; while Hanks channels all that's good with the Disney co-founder (minus the chain-smoking.) Farrell is equally delightful as the lone bit of energy in the film's half that deals with Travers' childhood. Outside of that...

What’s Not: Gee wiz, is it worth more than an hour and a half of misery & despair to capture a few moments of bliss? I don't think so; and I'm the one who had to sit and watch it (125 minutes total.) Take the following moments of levity (in no particular order.)
1. Travers addresses the mother of a baby, before takeoff, 'Will the child be a nuisance?' before whispering to herself, 'I hope we crash.' Nice.
2. Travers' first impression of beautiful Los Angeles? 'It smells like chlorine and sweat.' She then proceeds to annoy everyone she comes in contact with.
3. "No pears!" Travers discovers pears in her fruit basket, and proceeds to launch them out the hotel window onto the pool below. Good thing, I wasn't swimming.
4. A young Travers tries to cheer her father up with poetry, earning the following critique, 'It's hardly Yates, is it?' To be fair, it made me laugh (I was the only one.)
5. Good luck explaining an attempted suicide (drowning) by Travers' mother to your kids. Well kids, sometimes Mommies need a break...
6. Better watch out, or you'll get the buckle end of daddy's belt. Joy.
7. How cool is it to have your dad point you out at the town fair, by saying, 'Give her a drink... er, give her a hand.' If only he could top that by passing out drunk, and falling off stage in front of everyone she knows.

Best Line: A defiant Travers tells her agent, 'He's very welcome to every penny I don't possess,' while expressing a reluctance to deal with Mr. Disney. There's not much to laugh at; but Travers' reaction to a hotel room filled with stuffed Disney dolls is priceless, 'How old do they think I am?'

Overall: I barely remember Mary Poppins; and what little I do, failed to impress me as a kid. That said, biopics like Saving Mr. Banks usually appeal to me. Trouble is, it's downright depressing with only glimpses of semi-happiness, breaking through the clouds of a most stubborn author who insists on having things her own way, 'This is my film, and I will have it my way.' It's not like she's the only kid who had a tough time growing up: It certainly doesn't entitle her to be a bitch 40+ years later. Stranger still, the real P.L. Travers is said to have hated it (the 1964 film, specifically the process) and refused to work with Disney again. I wonder if that's in this movie.

If you plan on bringing your kids to see this, beware... it's a downer.