Saving Mr. Banks
Humour, pathos, reality. 100%
An amusing and entertaining account of the protracted efforts of Walt Disney (played by Tom Hanks) to acquire the film rights to the novel “Mary Poppins”, by Pamela (Mrs!) Travers (played by Emma Thompson. No, not “Hermione” from the Harry Potter movies!). The reasons why his efforts are so protracted become evident throughout the movie.
Firstly, I have to confess to never having seen the movie nor read the book. Truth be told, it took me ages to work out who the titular character was! Now that I have the seen this movie, exploring the source material and more seems worthwhile.
“Protracted”…well…Mrs. Travers sort of comes across as a female version of Basil Fawlty in this movie (of the famous U.K. sitcom “Fawlty Towers”)! She is brusque and has the manner of a stern, toffee English woman. Mrs. Travers is consistently and insistently brusque throughout the movie and most amusing for that. That being said, seeing as how “Fawlty Towers” never found favour in the U.S., it might be hard to picture American audiences being much amused by her. There is some nice, subtle humour in the performances of those Mrs. Travers has to work with in the movie…the would be song writers for the film “Mary Poppins”…I recognised one from the U.S. version of “The office” (B.J. Novak).
If Mrs. Travers was nothing more than a female Basil Fawlty, then I suppose I might not have enjoyed this movie so much. Thompson, however, brings a great sense of pathos to her role. She is a woman who miserably carries her cross with her all the time. Not having read her book, I wonder how much of a ‘disconnect’ there is between the author and her creation. Having seen a few award bait movies recently, I can’t say that any have particularly grabbed me. As Travers does have a narrative arc or sorts and displays multi-dimensional emotions, I think Thompson deserves a Best Actress award. The recently held Golden Globe awards gave that honour to actresses in “American hustle”, but to me “Saving Mr. Banks” is the superior movie and Thompson a more deserving recipient (I have no idea if Thomspon was even nominated in those awards).
Tom Hanks is also recognisably Tom Hanks in this movie, but it didn’t detract from his performance. Seeing as how positively I responded to this movie, I would be generous in giving him a Best Actor award. Seeing as how this movie is made by Walt Disney Studios, it’s no surprise that his representation is imbued with a vaseline glow. I was trying to recall what the controversy was with him, so I looked him up on Wikipedia to see if it was mentioned there…it is…anti-Semitism and racism. Of course, I doubt if a movie of this sort would really have any business delving into that aspect of his character.
What is good about this movie is how it attempts to ground Mrs. Travers personality with her childhood experiences. To me, it seemed to provide a basic level of insight into her, which wasn’t harsh. Without having explored this aspect myself, it seems to me that the film does provide some sort of explanation for the relationship between her book and her childhood experiences. Perhaps I would have liked more insight into the relationship between her childhood experiences and the woman she became…they seem pretty tenuous in the film, but then again I’m not sure psychonalysis would be of much help here. It’s just my sneaking suspicion that there is more to her adult form than what we see in the movie. This aspect is intriguing to me.
If I do have one criticism of the film, it is that it appears quite obscure on her family’s story. It wasn’t clear to me what Mrs. Travers’ father did for a living before he moved his family to the middle of nowhere in Australia. Did he have to change jobs? Also, there is a scene with Mrs. Travers’ mum (when she is also a child) where her mum pockets some liquor at the clothesline. Was that drink for her? Or was she hiding it from her husband? More clarity would have been appreciated here.
There was one scene which I appreciated in this movie…after a moment of crisis between Mrs. Travers and Walt, Walt travels to England to see her. He connects with her on a human level, I felt, and displayed empathy with her. The less pleasant scene (although it is played for laughs) comes later, when Mrs. Travers returns to see Walt, unexpectedly. It seems an affirmation of what Mrs. Travers might have imagined their relationship to have been all along…merely mercantile (on his part).
This movie portrays Mrs. Travers as having her D.N.A. (so to speak) all over Walt’s movie. Since the movie is regarded as a classic, it seems her efforts were entirely positive and beneficial to Walt’s movie, perhaps? In which case, she’s hardly deserving the scorn that she draws at times, right? If she hadn’t of been so insistent on her vision for the movie, would have it been as so unutterably awful as she imagined it could have been?
On reflection, it also seems to me that Mrs. Travers is, in fact, a kind of unintentional heroine of this Disney movie. Recently my Duckduckgo (a search engine) app had an interesting news story feed on it…via the “filmschoolrejects” website. The story was called “6 things the film industry does not want you to know about”. Number 6 concerned studios stealing scripts…poor script writers submit a script and an eerily similar one gets made into a movie later on with no compensation for the original script writer. I say “Bravo!” to Mrs. Travers! A true hero!
If the movie’s script isn’t just basically the conversations transcribed verbatim at the time from tapes, then I’d also give this film a best Script award. It’s also my personal Best Film so far.
I did entertain the notion of scoring this movie 95%, then 95+% (which is my threshhold for giving a film 10/10 on sites with a scoring function. But then I thought “Sod it!”. It’s near perfect and perfect enough.