Friday, January 3, 2014

Saving Mr. Banks

Reviving the tasteful A-movie 
while referring to a timeless classic

Hanks and Thompson as
Walt Disney and P.L. Travers at Disneyland
     Saving Mr. Banks is Disney’s clever way of referring to its glorious past, while also maintaining a quality present through co-producing an excellent script by Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith.  It’s the story of making the 1964 movie classic Mary PoppinsMary Poppins, whom Tom Hanks, as Walt Disney, desperately tries to woo for twenty years with genial,
avuncular pragmatism.  They make a great team.  Can’t someone remake Indiscreet or come up with another smart, witty middle-aged romance for them?  I bet Thompson would write one if a producer would back it.  It’s a very good movie
that could have been made in the late ‘50s or early ‘60s, when it’s set, because it’s professionally crafted, tasteful, and the plot hinges on Freudian analysis – what screwed you up unknowingly in childhood will come back to haunt you (and those with whom you interact) in adulthood.  Emma Thompson exercises her considerable comic skills playing the curmudgeonly P.L. Travers, author of

Dexter is Hoping Walt can Convince Travers to Make Mary Poppins
     The TV ads make Saving Mr. Banks look garishly candy colored whereas the actual production design and color are far more complex.  It’s easy to forget what a game changer Mary Poppins was because it mixed live action and animated sequences with greater breadth and acumen than other earlier commercial movies.  It’s also a joyous movie that is truly delightful without becoming saccharine and it was one of the last successful old studio musicals.  Disney was probably the last of the Hollywood glamour factories, which Saving Mr. Banks displays in friendly, vivid detail.  Things went downhill commercially and artistically for the studios and their musicals for years afterward.  Now, if Disney execs are really smart, they’ll re-release Mary Poppins to cinemas in the near future.  

The Sherman Brothers
     As Noël Coward said, “Amazing how potent cheap music is,” and yet it’s when the Sherman Brothers (played sharply by Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak) work on the songs, which Travers did not want, that the movie comes alive most thrillingly.  The developing friendship between Travers and her
Paul Giamatti as Travers' Driver

driver Ralph (Paul Giamatti gives a master class in how to create a perfect performance with a few scenes – there are no small actors in this production) shows Travers’ heart more so than in her scenes with Disney.  The flashback sequences to Travers’ youth and her parents’ unfortunate relationship are not as necessary as their length would suggest.  Contemporary audiences don’t need things spelled out as directly, but it’s nice to see Colin Farrell and Rachel Griffiths.

Rachel Griffiths as the Real Mary Poppins in Travers' Life

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