Saving Mr. Banks (2013) (PG-13)
"Saving Mr. Banks" or as I like to call it "Everyone Has Daddy Issues" is less about the movie making process as Fellini's "8½" was and is much more about dealing with issues from your past. It's so offensive about closure and what constitutes as a normality that it stretches the very skin of all its characters until they look faker than anything you could witness on reality television.
P. L. Travers (played uptight and curtly by Emma Thompson) is a writer who has to go meet Walt Disney. Assuming that most people have heard the story, allow a small indulgence here: Travers wrote Mary Poppins and the rest, they say, is history.
Well, actually it isn't history.
"Saving Mr. Banks" is about the laborious and trying experience of getting Travers to sign over the rights of her book to Walt Disney. At the risk of being scorned for giving away the ending, she signs the rights away. Why did I spoil this ending without using the SPOILER font? Because you already knew it.
There is no surprise here. "Mary Poppins" is a movie, ergo something had to have happened to get the prudish P. L. Travers—never "Pamela" always "Mrs. Travers"—to buy into the magic of Disney...oh, are we surprised that the Disney company produced the film? In case the rhetorical nature of that question is lost, no, we are not surprised.
The movie's opening shows us the quirks of Mrs. Travers. She has fired her maid, wrung her hands, and told her agent that she refuses to travel to America. Her agent reminds her that she hasn't written a book in ages and the royal coffers are running rather shallow.
So she goes to the United States of Commercialism. She sees Walt Disney as a money making businessman who will transform her beloved title character into a charade. The love she has for her books causes her to smack down every idea that the Disney creative team has come up with (the screenwriter and Sherman brothers played by Bradley Whitford, B. J. Novak, and Jason Schwartzman respectively). Meanwhile Walt—never "Mr. Disney"—played by Tom Hanks, has to finish a two decade long courtship of Mrs. Travers to convince her to sign her characters away.
The story is told in flashback form, with each important moment from the 1960s triggering a memory from early 1900 in Australia where P. L. was a young girl with a different name,
A curly haired, angelically expressionless creature doted upon by the best father in the world, Mrs. Travers grew up with fantasy. Her father's stories took her to another world, it's his voice that the film opens to, reading the lyrics to one of the songs from "Mary Poppins"—which, if you think about it, negates the whole point of the movie...or does it?
The re-release"Mary Poppins" virtually coincided with the theatrical release of "Saving Mr. Banks" and that is too much of a coincidence to be ignored.
Mrs. Travers is greeted in her hotel room by loads of Disney trademarked stuffed animal toys, which she shoves into a closet, except for a giant Mickey who she places in timeout in the corner. Before her cleanup, she promptly dismisses of the pears from the fruit basket, chucking them from her window into the hotel pool beneath her.
Then come the pills, she unleashes the hoard of medicines from her bag, which seems as bottomless as her character's bag did.
Aha, we start to realize that "Saving Mr. Banks" is a sheer piece of nonsense psycho-rehabilitation. It's about overcoming, closure, and acceptance...and it is offensively horrid at that. Its implications are far more insidious than any horror movie you could see.
Though Emma Thompson is a likable actress, she's hardly put to good use here. She is a caricature of a woman who existed and I find it condescending that anyone would consider the script's creation of P. L. Travers to be an honest one.
Perhaps this is because the script comes from two very immature writers who have only had one major hit between them: this one.
I feel like the film was written just so that it could be taken apart. It's impossible to not notice the many times fathers and mothers are mentioned in conversation, veiled so paper-ly thin it's as if the characters are doing puppet therapy.
Colin Farrell plays Mrs. Travers' father in her flashbacks, he is larger than life and goody-goody...everyone can see what road he will travel down.
Though it masquerades as being family friendly, the only thing that "Saving Mr. Banks" wants is more money.
It's a selfish movie in every sense of the word: flawed from its very conception.
That being said, the film is mindless enough that most of these offenses are forgivable. Emma Thompson and the rest of the cast are very likable, so that does help the film in a huge way.
It should be mentioned that the true story of P. L. Travers and how the film ends are two very different things...look it up.
But don't forget to go out and buy "Mary Poppins".
Note: For an opposite point of view, read Alan Jones' four-star guest review, linked here: Saving Mr. Banks
Posted by Micah Jones