As Peter Pan said to the Darling children before whisking them away to Never Land in the 1953 Disney classic “Peter Pan,” all you need to fly is “faith, trust, and pixie dust.” In the case of “Saving Mr. Banks,” the new film about Walt Disney’s quest to bring P.L. Travers’ beloved book “Mary Poppins” to the silver screen, the way Disney and Travers saw each other’s visions never had the same type of “pixie dust” where they could come to an agreement. Disney had his “pixie dust” in the form of musical numbers, animated penguins, and Dick Van Dyke. Travers, on the other hand, was never quite keen on what she wanted to see on the big screen because she only saw Disney as a Hollywood hack with an adorable mouse at his side. The conflicts between the two, along with some incredibly heartfelt moments and superb performances from Tom Hanks, Emma Thompson, and Colin Farrell, make up the two hour-plus running time of this movie, and yet the movie never drags. Rather, it keeps the audience invested, as well as give them some watery eyes at certain moments.
Throughout the first half hour, the character of P.L. Travers is played out to be an uptight and unlikable person who practically says “no no no” in every scene. This personally was a problem for me at first because there was nothing likable or redeeming about this character whatsoever and she just played out like a strict British lady. Inter-spliced with her storyline throughout the film is a series of flashbacks featuring Colin Farrell as Travers’ father, who is played out to be the exact opposite of her, which I loved. Somewhere in the 30-45 minute mark of the film, both characters, in a way, end up at a meeting point that turns the film from silly and whimsical to dark and powerful. In fact, everything after the half hour mark explains exactly WHY Travers is so picky towards an adaptation of a book that she holds so dearly to her life. I give props to the film’s screenwriters, Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith, for giving the audience a reason to care for this supposedly terrible person, as well as telling a fascinating story with real emotion and a genuine sweetness to it.
Emma Thompson’s performance is spot on here, in which she effectively captures this unlikable character in every aspect imaginable. At one moment, she can be an uptight bitch who just can’t handle the “magic” of Disney and his ever-growing empire. Then in another moment, she can be a person who you can understand and somewhat relate to in the sense that you know where she’s coming from when she does and says certain things. I feel that’s why the movie works so much, because every nasty character should have something rather likable about them. Thompson pulls that off effortlessly, and therefore the praise towards her performance is granted.
Tom Hanks is having one hell of a year, I must say. This film and “Captain Phillips” both solidify that Hanks still has the talent that he possessed when he won the Academy Award for “Philadelphia.” His portrayal of the movie icon is practically dead on, and the audience is easily able to fall under the film’s spell and lose themselves in the performances. While his portrayal of Walt Disney was right on the money when it comes to emulating the filmmaker, I felt that Hanks’ performance in “Captain Phillips” was better and more powerful in the sense that it didn’t feel like acting there, whereas here you could tell that Hanks was playing a character. However, I did like how at times it showed that Walt wasn’t just a happy and joyous man, rather somebody who gets lost in his own business at times when trying to make something that he feels will be loved by audiences everywhere. As great as Thompson and Hanks were, I personally felt that members of the supporting cast stole the show in the long run.
Personally, I feel that Colin Farrell is going to be over-looked come Awards season, because his portrayal of P.L. Travers’ father is not only fantastic, but also heartbreaking to watch at the same time. The minute Farrell first comes on screen, he is instantly a lovable and awesome character to watch, and you want nothing but the best outcome for him in the end. In fact, it’s the scene involving Travers’ “downfall” that turned the movie around for me. It’s hard not to talk about his performance without spoiling what happens to him, so I’ll leave it by saying that Colin Farrell gives the best performance in the movie by far, in my opinion. Paul Giamatti and Jason Schwartzman also give great performances as Travers’ sweet driver Ralph and Richard Sherman of the Sherman brothers, respectively. Both characters are extremely likable and further show how talented both men are. While Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks give great performances in the film, I feel that Giamatti, Schwartzman, and especially Farrell, stole the show.
It’s nice to see a movie that on the outside looks formulaic and predictable, and in the end is actually a lot more powerful and emotional than one would expect from the trailers. Major props go to screenwriting duo Sue Smith and Kelly Marcel for taking this untold story of the making of “Mary Poppins” and making it thematic and fascinating to watch. John Lee Hancock, who directed Sandra Bullock to her first Oscar win in “The Blind Side,” shows his true talents behind the camera and understands how to bring out the best in his actors. “Saving Mr. Banks” surprised the hell out of me in the best ways possible. While cheesy at the beginning and kind of slow throughout, this is a movie filled with spectacular performances, a solid script, and an overall sense of magic that is present throughout the 125 minute duration. Definitely check this movie out this holiday season, but don’t let the Disney name fool you, as this isn’t the family movie that you might be led to believe it to be in the trailers.