Friday, January 3, 2014

Mousey Movie Review - Saving Mr. Banks

To say I liked Saving Mr. Banks is an understatement.  I have  seen it twice now, and on my dime each time.  And both times I thoroughly enjoyed this story about P.L. Travers the author of Mary Poppins and her struggles, both spiritually and creatively, in bringing her famous nanny to life.

The film stars Emma Thompson as Travers, an accomplished actress who has taken a turn in a Mary Poppins like role in the delightful Nanny McPhee and its sequel(s).  Tom Hanks, Woody of the Toy Story franchise and cough cough future Disney legend, plays Walt Disney himself.  The film jumps between two settings.  The first is a two week period in 1961, where Disney's team of the Sherman Brothers and scriptwriter Don DaGradi worked directly with Travers to flesh out the script for a possible Mary Poppins at the Disney Studio.  The second is flashbacks to Travers' childhood in Australia, where the audience learns that the Mary Poppins' story has a deeper meaning to Travers.  This story is based on real events, so audiences need to keep the perspective that some scenes in this Mousey Movie are either fictional or occurred at another time:

  • The Evil Queen: Emma Thompson is wonderful!  She makes you forget that she is an actress.  She makes you hate Travers (okay I may have been pre-disposed to that), and she is also able to make you feel for the Travers' character.  She really should receive the accolades that she has been receiving for this role.  But Tom Hanks does an excellent job also.  I know many have mocked his mustache, but I have looked at this role as Hanks the actor not mimicking Disney but portraying Disney.  So I did not need or want Hanks to be a body double, I wanted him to act.  And he does a great job researching the role and portraying a Missouri born business mogul.  But it is likely Paul Giamatti as the chauffeur Ralph who steals the movie and provides it heart.  Honestly, this entire cast does a great job!

  • King of the Forest: There are plenty of moments that will thrill the Disney fanboy.  These include a ton of Disney plush, pretending to be with the Sherman brothers as they compose their classic works and reproductions of concept art for Mary Poppins.  My favorite moments are digging around Walt's working office.  Here my favorite item is a picture from Marceline from Walt and Roy O. Disney's visit to their hometown.  My other favorite moment is when DaGardi announces to the boys that Walt is coming using the Bambi based code phrase for the boss is coming, after Disney gives his warning cough of course.  Really a lot of this story is about a culture clash, between the very proper Mrs. Travers and call we Walt, Mr. Disney.  And the film does a great job of showing that culture including the use of first names, which Walt insisted on.  

  • Let It Go:  Okay Disney fans to quote Princess Elsa, "Let it go!"  Yes, when Disney and Travers go to Disneyland, you can see the computers of the modern ticket machines.  And yes, the Mickey walk-around character is vintage, but Pluto looks a little too modern.  Yes, it's true, you should not see the sign for Pinocchio's Daring Journey as they ride the King Arthur Carousel.  I do have a background in history, so I am the guy who bored all my friends and family with facts about Braveheart instead of just enjoying it.  So if I can let it go, you can too.  Seriously, the cold never brothered me anyway.          

  • Daddy Day: An emotional touchstone of this movie is that Walt Disney explains that bringing Mary Poppins to light is to fulfill a promise to his daughters, a promise that he had spent 20 years pursuing.  In his office there are pictures of both Diane and Sharon Disney, and he uses their images to underscore his desire to make this film.  I have decided in the movie premiere scene at the end that the young lady walking with a tall handsome man is Walt's daughter Diane Disney Miller and husband Ron Miller.  In my mind, I have decided this closes the circle on the promise.  Additionally, those who wait until the very end will see this film is dedicated to Diane Disney Miller who passed away shortly before the release date of this film.  And yes, I shed a little tear as I wondered what she would have thought of Hanks' portrayal of her father. 

  • Fathers and Daughters: The story of P.L. Travers is really not about her struggle with Walt Disney, it is her struggle to remember her father.  As a dad, this story was very meaningful for me as I tried to imagine what my own children will remember about me.  I did take the Between Tween to my second showing, and the movie lead to plenty of discussions about childhood, creativity and familial love.  Oh, and there were tears, so many tears!  This movie is not fluff!  It gives you something to mull over.
Saving Mr. Banks is a wonderful story that Disney and non-Disney fans should see.  Of course, as a Disney fan I fully supported Walt on the screen in his quest to create his classic.  But I feel this story based on the real events were fair to both Travers and Disney.  Even Walt Disney expresses support for Travers' position at one point.  And as a Disney fan, I smiled as I watched them depict Richard Sherman singing to Walt his favorite song, "Feed the Birds" for the very first time.  The Disneyland scenes and studio scenes created huge excitement for me, especially since I visited both during the summer of filming.  Honestly, I as a Disney fan wanted and needed to like this film.  But as a movie fan, I love Saving Mr. Banks.

Honestly, this short review barely touches all my thoughts on this Mousey Movie, which you need to go see if you have not taken it in yet!

I should warn you, you will want to go straight home and watch Mary Poppins!

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