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 Saving Mr. Banks

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Donald McKinney
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PostSubject: Saving Mr. Banks   Fri Dec 13, 2013 11:48 pm

This is a film that began with a script by Kelly Marcel (creator of the TV series, Terra Nova and the upcoming adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey (2015)) and Sue Smith, (writer for Australian shows like The Young Doctors and Sons & Daughters), which ended up The Black List, a list compiled annually by film executive Franklin Leonard of the most liked unproduced screenplays going around in Hollywood. Saving Mr. Banks made it onto the list, and it had originally been pitched as a low-budget film made by BBC Films, but Walt Disney Pictures read it, and picked it up, as the film features Walt Disney quite heavily and it focuses on how Mary Poppins (1964) nearly never got beyond planning stages. The Disney company picked it up not only because the companies creator was in it, but also because it was a tale about family at heart, and it was a fish-out-of-water film too, something Disney like to make. The project was given to John Lee Hancock to direct, Hancock was screenwriter of A Perfect World (1993) and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1997) for Clint Eastwood, before moving into directing with The Rookie (2002) for Disney, and then moving onto the costly flop The Alamo (2004) and the critically acclaimed The Blind Side (2009). Hancock takes Saving Mr. Banks, and weaves a story about a troubled woman reluctant to let go of her beloved creation, but she meets her toughest opponent, the most famous film producer in the world who always got what he wanted, and he would never give in. The result makes for a very compelling and engaging film.

It begins in London in April 1961, when author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) is told by her agent Diarmuid Russell (Ronan Vibert) that because Travers hasn't written a Mary Poppins book or any other book in nearly a decade, the royalties are drying up and she may lose her house. Her one hope of financial stability is if she answers to the repeated offers made by Walt Disney (Tom Hanks), who for 20 years, has been trying to option the rights to Mary Poppins, but Travers has refused all calls, but finally gives in and flies to Los Angeles for 2 weeks to negotiate with Disney about giving up the rights to her book and what Disney has in mind for the film. Upon landing, Travers takes an instant disliking to Los Angeles and all things American, despite the friendliness of her chauffeur Ralph (Paul Giamatti), and she doesn't trust Disney either. The worst is to come when she meets screenwriter Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford) and songwriters Robert Sherman (B.J. Novak) and Richard Sherman (Jason Schwartzman), and she HATES the script, the songs and the design plans for the film. But, it's during her time in Los Angeles, that Travers has flashbacks to her childhood in 1906 in the outback of Queensland, Australia. Where she thinks back to her childhood with her loving father Travers Robert Goff (Colin Farrell), a bank manager who was a fantasist but also a very heavy alcoholic. She adored her father, and he was the inspiration for Mr. Banks in her book of Mary Poppins, and her repressed childhood gets in the way of negotiations.

It's a lovely film, which captures the eras they're set in really well. Hancock beautifully and accurately recreates Los Angeles in 1961, when it was still littered with the odd orange grove and oil fields, (the latter of which Travers looks upon with disgust), and the olde world charm of turn of turn of the century Australia, where towns were still small and civilisation was slowly spreading through the country. It flashes back a lot between the two eras, and they couldn't be further apart, little did the young Travers know (then called Helen Goff), that a tragic event in her life would spark the genesis of Mary Poppins. It's very moving but it has moments of humour with Travers' observations on life in America and her looks of disgust at all things American, including her room at the Beverly Hills Hotel filled with Disney paraphernalia and merchandise, which all go in the cupboard and out the window in the swimming pool!! Razz It's a film about a culture clash, Travers is very prim and upper-class British, (always hiding her Australian roots), and the moment she lands in Los Angeles, it's her worst nightmare. It's unashamedly sentimental, but it's got it's heart on it's sleeve, even if it's main character has a heart of stone that's impossible to melt, even a trip to Disneyland can't make her smile either.

Emma Thompson is perfect as Travers, giving one of her very best performances, people around on the Disney lot remember when Travers came over and not many people have nice words about her, and it's easy to see why. You can't tell if Travers is being deliberately obsequious for the sake of it, or if she was deeply repressed, but Thompson is worth the price of a ticket alone. Tom Hanks is a worthy addition to any film, and Disney is the role he was born to play, even if his performance is little more than an extended cameo, he captures Uncle Walt's child-like optimism and sense of wonder, although his patience is put to the test by Travers. It doesn't focus on Disney's disputed dark side, but this is a film about Travers, not Disney. Paul Giamatti makes a friendly cameo as Ralph, Travers' LA chauffeur whose constant Bon Ami irritates Travers, and it manages to help her understand Americans better. B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman are great fun as the Sherman Brothers, the talented songwriters for Mary Poppins, whose happy world is shattered when Travers comes into the room, even Bradley Whitford as Don DaGradi is optimistic about meeting Travers but she brings him to his knees. There's lovely support from Colin Farrell as Goff, the loving father who never seemed to have grown up, and his alcoholism keeps him in that world, Farrell has fun as Goff while showing a darker side, while his wife Margaret (Ruth Wilson) is left to pick up the pieces with her sister Ellie (Rachel Griffiths), who was the real inspiration for Mary Poppins.



Saving Mr. Banks is a film centered around Travers, and she's an absolutely force of nature, and the 2 weeks she had in the company of Walt Disney and his employees. The film is like a family version of Frost/Nixon, 2 powerful people coming to blows over something they want. Hancock does a great job with this film, which keeps it focused and to the point, with most of the action in Los Angeles confined to a rehearsal room on the Disney backlot, while the other half takes place in Australia and the events that led to Travers' loss of innocence and the ultimate creation of Mary Poppins. Ultimately Disney didn't want to hurt Travers in anyways, he wanted the rights, because he promised his daughters he would make a film of Mary Poppins, but had he known what a nightmare it would be, he would have given in straight away. It's a pity there wasn't more of Disney in the film, as Hanks relishes in playing the great man, and that you see that he and Travers had a lot in common, with their upbringings and how they hold on to what's nearest to them. While the film does take slight liberties, such as Travers crying at the premiere, in reality she walked out crying in disgust at what Disney had done to her creation, but in the film, she's crying because it brings back memories of her father. Plus, it's hard to have imagined Travers cuddling up with a Mickey Mouse doll in bed. But, these are tiny niggles in an otherwise engaging and moving film with a good dash of humour and lots of nods and winks towards what Disney was to create in Mary Poppins. Wink
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