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Saving Mr. Banks an excellent character drama

By: Scott Hayes

  |  Posted: Saturday, Dec 21, 2013 06:00 am

WINNING STORY Ė Saving Mr. Banks is a character drama that chronicles the struggles of Walt Disney to make Mary Poppins into a movie.
WINNING STORY Ė Saving Mr. Banks is a character drama that chronicles the struggles of Walt Disney to make Mary Poppins into a movie.
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Saving Mr. Banks
Stars: 4.5
Starring: Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Colin Farrell, Jason Schwartzman, Ruth Wilson, Bradley Whitford, B.J. Novak, Kathy Baker and Paul Giamatti
Directed by: John Lee Hancock
Written by: Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith
Rated: PG for mature subject matter.
Runtime: 125 minutes
Now playing at: Cineplex Odeon North Edmonton and Scotiabank Theatre

It was in 1934 that P.L. Travers published her beloved childrenís book, Mary Poppins, but it took decades for Walt Disney to finally convince her to let him make a movie about it.

She did not acquiesce easily. The story, it turned out, meant a great deal to her. Learning why makes for a compelling movie unto itself.

Saving Mr. Banks takes us deep into Traversí past, her childhood in Australia with her family. She had a very important relationship with her father, played by Colin Farrell. He was a banker but also an alcoholic, a combination that made him an interesting and often fun father but a failure in many other respects. He took ill from influenza and died while she was still young, and the experience proved to be very formative to her.

And profound. She became reclusive as an adult, and surly to quite an extent. Travers, as portrayed by the excellent Emma Thompson, was as sour and dour as they come. There was no pleasing her with much and the prospect of having her great creation turned into a cartoonish Disney enterprise was abhorrent.

Money troubles, however, forced her to travel to California and at least entertain the proposal put forth by Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) himself.

Of course, we all know that he eventually won out. Mary Poppins became a very successful movie in 1964, despite Travers despising the songs, the interpretation of her story and its characters, and especially the use of animation. Well, pretty much everything.

All that aside, Saving Mr. Banks is an excellent movie, a character drama that shows us very poignantly how peopleís personalities develop because of their experiences in childhood. Director John Lee Hancock does this by jumping frequently between the present (the early 1960s with Travers and Disney) and Traversí own youth in Australia around the turn of the century.

Thompson has yet to get the respect that she deserves for her prodigious acting talent. She does more with facial expressions than most people can do with full speeches. That works extraordinarily well for her here, as she plays Travers as an acerbic introvert and antisocial author scarred by her childhood and still struggling to accommodate her adulthood.

Hanks is, well, Hanks. He doesnít seem to be playing Disney so much as a man with a Disney moustache who also calls himself Disney. His job here wasnít so much as to impersonate this famous figure on screen (the first time that this has happened) as to come across as a man who overcomes his own childhood traumas by setting up a theme park and making movies about flying elephants.

This is a movie about how the two made a movie out of a book. That doesnít make it sound like much but itís good storytelling, a still novel convention in Hollywood, much like last yearís Hitchcock about how that British director fought the studio system to make Psycho. Saving Mr. Banks is not quite E. Elias Merhigeís Shadow of the Vampire, nor is it even close to Tim Burtonís Ed Wood. Itís still very good though. It has a heart and a happy ending and it doesnít need much more than that to win you over.

It is a simple story told without a lot of flash or plot. Rather, it comes across as a wonderful character drama quietly told with dialogue and interaction. The audience gets immersed into this one personís life so well that itís strange to emerge from the theatre and not have her there still with you. It makes you want to learn more about Travers and about Mary Poppins. I wish more movies were like this one.


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