DM Haight

Walt Disney was an American icon we all trusted. His films, shorts, and theme parks captivated the young minds, and the old minds for that matter, and still his mere memory manages to do this to this very day. So it was no wonder that we finally found ourselves with a film about Disney, from Disney, concerning one of Disney’s most beloved and historically significant films, Mary Poppins.

Played by Emma Thompson, Saving Mr. Banks follows the struggle of P.L. Travers as she is hounded and persuaded to give up the film rights to the magical Mary Poppins. The starchy persona of Travers keeps the writer from relinquishing the rights to Disney, in fear that he will make light of the character that has made Travers not only a household name, but that he might bastardize the father in a way that is unfair to the untrained eye.

The struggle with understanding the character of Mr. Banks is the focal point of the film, just as the title suggests, but the journey we take to discovering why Banks is so much more important than we might think is an enlightening on the origins of one of film’s most notable and beloved characters. Colin Farrell portrays Travers’ father: a drunk, destitute, idealistic man who’s addiction to fantasy drives him and his family into the dirt. The biographical side of Banks helps to illuminate how, when the two worlds clash, Travers manages to find repulsion in Disney’s charisma and wonder.

Hanks does a fine job recreating Walt. But there is, unfortunately, that essence that is Tom Hanks that just can’t be shaken. When two completely recognizable entities collide like they do in Disney and Hanks, it’s a fight to discern who we’re watching–is it Walt or is it Hanks that we’re picking up on? I would have preferred a lesser known actor in the role of Disney, one who’s personal persona would not compete with Disney himself. This is, after all, a Disney film, from company name, to character.

But then that sentimentality sinks in. It’s like a warmth that, for some, is welcome, for others distracting. Who could resist a smile, especially a lover of film, when Hanks first appears on TV and interacts with his animations? It’s not only a nostalgia of a recently departed history, it’s a reliving of events that helped shape many childhood ideas of wonder and imagination.

John Lee Hancock’s handling of Banks is as enjoyable as it is heartwarming. I couldn’t resist a smirk or two, especially when Thomas Newton’s score hit so precisely on the tone of the struggles everyone dealt with, from Travers and Disney, all the way down to the production team fighting to make the music and script work. There was sentiment, comedy, drama, a hint of romance here and there, and Paul Giamatti drove a car and dug a moat.

At the very worst, the movie is poor history, or contrived, depending on the scene. But at the very best, with a bag of popcorn, silence, and an incredibly loud candy wrapper, you can easily find love in Saving Mr. Banks. It’s a movie about the movies, about a great lover of movies, and it plants a seed of love for the movies. One need only water it, and remember funny words and that a bag can be endless, and that a spoon full of sugar is not only sweet, but it helps the medicine go down.

 

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