Sunday, December 15, 2013

Review: How Disney Saved Mr. Banks - Again!

Walt Disney wanted to make a lavish, full-color movie musical from the beloved children's book Mary Poppins written by P. L. Travers.
The Sherman brothers (Richard and Robert) were all set to write the music and lyrics.
Robert Stevenson would direct. Tony Walton would design the costumes. And top talent would also adapt the book into a screenplay that would incorporate live action and animation in the same scene.
It would be a milestone.
But Mrs. Travers wanted no part of it.
She wasn't hot to have her book made into a movie. She didn't want it to be a musical. She hated lavish Hollywood productions. And she certainly didn't want animations (aka cartoons) anywhere near her story.
But she needed the money.
Still, that didn't mean that she would sign off on everything that Disney and the Shermans had in mind.
And that's just the beginning of the story of the making of Mary Poppins, the 1964 film that won five Oscars and starred Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke. The movie is now a classic.
But the real story about the struggle to get it made has never been told -- until now. And so, along comes Saving Mr. Banks, a dual-story movie about the making of a movie and the life of Poppins' creator, P. L. Travers.
Well, it turns out Mrs. Travers wasn't a "Mrs." after all. And she really wasn't British, either. And P. L. Travers was not her real name. And, as is the case with the authors of more than a few children's books, she didn't have a very happy childhood herself. She kept secrets. Lots of them. And she simply was not a very nice or a very agreeable or a very cooperative or even a moderately happy person. But she's played so pitch-perfectly in this film by the great Emma Thompson that you will find redeeming human qualities in her nonetheless.
Still, you'll feel very sorry for the Sherman brothers (played splendidly by Jason Schwartzman and B. J. Novak) who have to put up with her as they try to put the movie together. Plus, Paul Giamatti takes a throwaway role as a chauffeur and turns it into pure gold.
Yes, it takes some time getting used to Tom Hanks as Walt Disney -- especially in you remember the real, live Disney. But after awhile Hanks very efficiently lulls you into a suspension of disbelief. And isn't that what all fine actors do? Isn't it what Disney himself did as well?
OK, so all this is just one half of the story.
Because the other half is the life of P. L. Travers. So, we must warn you that if you don't like movies with flashbacks (lots of flashbacks) you'd better skip this one. Because this film shifts back and forth in time and place repeatedly. But when we flash back we get to enjoy Colin Farrell in the role of Travers Goff, the author's father. For Farrell this is a dramatic departure from his sexy and/or tough guy roles and he gives us a veritable tour de force. And let's not forget Annie Rose Buckley as the young P. L. Travers (Ginty Goff) and Ruth Wilson as  her mother, Margaret Goff.
This is pure, old-fashioned, no-expense-spared Hollywood movie making that gives us that rarity: an intelligent, enlightening film that the whole family can enjoy. True, it does take it's own good time to unfold. But it's so rich in detail and in character that we hardly notice.
This is a movie about a movie that also contains a story within a story.
And, incredibly it all works.

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