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“Saving Mr. Banks” – Early Review (POSITIVE)

December 18, 2013

Screen shot 2013-12-18 at 5.07.34 PMQuite the meta film we’ve got here, no seriously, this film is probably the most meta Disney film there is, at least since “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”. Ok, that may be a stretch, but lets take a quick examination, you’ve got a film, by Disney pictures, telling the story about the pre-production of one of the great Disney classics around, featuring a supporting player that is the big man himself, Walt Disney. The film even opens with the classic Walt Disney logo from the mid-60’s. Seriously, if you’re not going ga-ga over this notion, it’s time to re-evaluate the situation.

Having said that, this is one of those films that I’m always really giddy to see, it’s a movie about the movies, the pre-production side at least, and while half the films focus is on creative differences in pre-production, the other half is an awe-inspiring mother/father tale that will surly leave tears in the crowds, and give new meaning to the love you cherish with your respective parent.

Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) made a promise to his two young daughters, after they begged him to make a movie of their favorite book, P.L. Travers’ (Emma Thompson) Mary Poppins, he set out on a 20 year journey to convince Mrs. Travers to sell him the rights so he can complete his promise. In his quest to obtain the rights, Walt comes up against a curmudgeonly, sour, writer who has absolutely no intention of letting her beloved magical nanny get destroyed by the Hollywood system. However, as soon 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 Burbank, Walt  pulls out all the stops. Armed with imaginative storyboards and chirpy songs from the talented Sherman brothers (B.J. Novak, Jason Schwartzman), Walt launches an all-out onslaught on Mrs. 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.

Gaining this new perspective about Mrs. Travers past, living in Australia with her father, mother, and siblings, it’s quite tragic to see how the inspiration for the original book came to be. It was a love song for her fun-loving (alcoholic) father. Travers’ father had flaws which translate fluently into the character of Mr. Banks in the book and the “Mary Poppins” film. Giving up Poppins to Disney would essentially be Travers giving up on her father and disappointing him all over again.

Screen shot 2013-12-18 at 5.07.50 PMIn some case, when a movie jumps back in forth between flashback to present it can almost seem jarring, yet something about the way the film does it here is quite enigmatic, perhaps its already the cast that the film is already set in the past to begin with, that jumping back even further in time is almost welcoming at this point. The editing is brisk and open to the stories important narrative structure.

But the winners here, which I’m sure the Academy has the eyes set on for nomination time, are Emma Thompson & Tom Hanks. Hanks is enchanting/hypnotic as the iconic Walt Disney, and Emma Thompson is delightfully bitter as Mary Poppin’s creator, who certainly doesn’t need a spoon full of sugar to give her performance such sprite. “Saving Mr. Banks” is a fascinating look at how heads can butt in the pre-production stage of any film, but also it gives us a great character study about tragedy in ones life and how sometimes the affects can bring surprises in the smallest of places.

GRADE: A-

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