Director: John Lee Hancock
Writers: Kelly Marcel, Sue Smith
Starring: Tom Hanks, Emma Thompson, Colin Farrell, Ruth Wilson, Paul Giamatti, Jason Schwartzman, B.J. Novak, Bradley Witford
Running time: 125 minutes
After twenty years of failing to gain the movie rights to her beloved novel Mary Poppins, Walt Disney (Hanks) flies author P.L. Travers (Thompson) out to LA in a final attempt to make her yield, and succeeds. While she proves excruciatingly uncompromising and stubborn, it becomes apparent to Walt and his team that perhaps her reasons for clinging so dearly to the work is because the story is loosely based on her emotional childhood.
First it was Private Ryan, now it’s Mr. Banks. Tom Hanks just enjoys saving people, apparently; though it must be stated that the saving going on in this sugar-doused tale is of a very different nature to finding Matt Damon in war-torn Europe. Following up his surprise powerful hit The Blind Side, director John Lee Hancock’s Saving Mr. Banks is certainly not a harrowing, blood-soaked journey of turmoil and death; instead, it’s a semi-celebratory piece for the 50th anniversary of Mary Poppins, and one of the most truly delightful, magical films of the year.
As we descend on the 1960s, shortly before the release of the now bonafide classic Mary Poppins, our story outwardly appears to be behind the making of the film. As Travers – wonderfully portrayed by a scintillating Emma Thompson, who we can all stroke down as another sure contender for Best Actress at next year’s Oscars – struggles to write her new book in London, she receives another invitation from Walt Disney himself to head to the Disney offices in California to negotiate giving up the rights to her most treasured work. What follows is the often hilarious, often excruciating ups and downs of the creation of the film as Travers “works” with the screenwriter and composers to create the right feel and tone, and to make sure that her beloved book isn’t tarnished by Hollywood executives.
The chemistry between the four (Bradley Witford, B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman assuming the other roles in that order) is sprightly and delightful, providing the film with the majority of its warm humour and spring in its step – and it’s a film all about warmth and spring – and the sequences depicting the creation of the most well-known songs are just wonderful. ‘A Spoonful Of Suger’ is fabulous, but just wait for ‘Let’s Go Fly A Kite’ for the butterflies to flutter. Then in steps the brilliant Tom Hanks – another sure contender (and a safe bet winner) for the Oscars, just not for this film – as the main man Walt to play back and forth with Thompson as they argue over creative control and the real meaning behind the story – arguments which actually took place.
The film outwardly appears to be as such. Yet, just as Walt discovers that Mary Poppins perhaps isn’t really about the nanny coming to save the children, Saving Mr. Banks isn’t really about the making of the film: it’s a film about paternal love. Through a series of flashbacks that equate to roughly half of the running time, we turn back time to look at Travers’ childhood in Australia as her loving, good-natured father attempts to start a new life for them by moving into a new home in the country and starting a new job. Yet paradise turns into tragedy as alcohol takes its toll and his relationship with his family fractures – particularly with his eldest daughter Pamela, whose young point of view we see things from.
The wound never fully healed for her, as we discover back in the 60s where a still-haunted Pamela shadows her grief in cantankerous and standoff-ish behaviour. Suddenly there’s a completely new level to an already accomplished film, and everything around that central idea is filler, in a sense. All of the jovial, uplifting, zealous stuff – wonderful though it is – is merely padding around the bigger story; a story of a woman who misses her father. A story unafraid to make you shed a tear or two. A story that’s true.
The ever reliable Ruth Wilson steps into the shoes of Pamela’s mother, while Colin Farrell takes on the meaty, burdening the role of the father to generally good effect, though hard as he might try he just can’t stop his Irish tones from slipping out once in a while. He does, however, do a remarkably fine job of bringing poignant darkness to an otherwise happy film by completely convincing us of his inner struggle with the sauce, and we believe for every moment that he’s a man who truly loves his family and wants to do right by them, but has no real control over himself.
Funny, charming, heart-warming, reverential. There is definitely more than a spoonful of sugar added to help Saving Mr. Banks go down, but never once is it too sweet. What does supercalifragilisticexpialidocios mean? It means to feel wonderful, and that’s exactly what Saving Mr. Banks does.