UK Release Date: 29th November 2013
Runtime: 125 minutes
Director: John Lee Hancock
Writer: Kelly Marcel, Sue Smith
Starring: Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Colin Farrell, Paul Giamatti, Jason Schwartzman, BJ Novak
Synopsis: Walt Disney gets what he wants. So when a British author refuses to give him the film rights to her character Mary Poppins, he sets about changing her mind.
For some reason, ‘sentiment’ is a dirty word in film criticism. Any movie that makes a shameless attempt to tug at the heartstrings is immediately derided by a certain section of the critical fraternity. Saving Mr Banks takes a huge swipe at the emotional faculties of its audience and it’s not trite, saccharine, maudlin or corny. In fact, it’s absolutely brilliant.
PL Travers (Emma Thompson) is short of money, but desperately protective of her literary protagonist Mary Poppins. When Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) approaches her once again for the film rights, she is forced to consider it and jets off to America. She is irritated by her chirpy driver (Paul Giamatti), the songwriting Sherman brothers (Jason Schwartzman and BJ Novak) and the crass American lifestyle. It soon transpires that there’s more to Poppins than meets the eye and it has something to do with Travers’s father (Colin Farrell).
Saving Mr Banks is, from the start, an incredibly engaging bit of cinema. The narrative flips elegantly from Travers fiercely protecting her story from the cartoonish influence of the Disney company to her troubled childhood in Australia that influenced the story of her magical nanny.
Emma Thompson is, as usual, perfect in the central role as Travers. Her performance goes from icy and prim to vulnerable and touching during the course of the film. There are several moments late on that echo the incredible acting ability she displayed in that moment from Love, Actually, including one set to the fantastic Poppins track ‘Let’s Go Fly a Kite’. She is amply supported by an avuncular Tom Hanks as Walt Disney.
Top of the supporting cast of Saving Mr Banks is the stunning Paul Giamatti. His character initially appears to be an incidental addition to the annoyingly perky residents of Los Angeles, but his role soon takes on a real emotional poigancy.
Saving Mr Banks is a film that thrives on its sentiment, with not a dry eye in the house by the end. But also, it’s devilishly witty, with Thompson’s deadpan delivery of some real zingers ensuring that there’s always a tonal balance between the hefty childhood material and the lighter 60s stuff. Many of the better gags are in the trailer, but there are still some jokes that genuinely surprise and amuse.
There’s nothing edgy here, and the Disney sheen on this Disney story robs it of much of its complexity, but it’s a very funny film that is so good that it’s difficult to really find any words to say.
If only there was a word for that.
Pop or Poop?
Saving Mr Banks is one of the real surprises of the year. Free of mawkishness and cheesy sentimentality, it tugs at the heartstrings effectively thanks to a stunning central performance by the ever-reliable Emma Thompson.
It’s wickedly funny and manages to tell the well-known story of the Mary Poppins production process in a novel and interesting way.
It does suffer from a lack of bite at times, but that’s to be expected and it doesn’t take the thrill out of what is a very good film indeed.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.