Tuesday, 25 March 2014



Release Date: Out Now (Monday 24 March 2014)
Director: John Lee Hancock
Starring: Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Colin Farrell, Paul Giamatti,

Reviewed by Kyle Pedley


Despite some initial audience confusion as to precisely what it was actually about, Saving Mr. Banks comes together with extraordinary clarity and efficiency, shedding off any ambiguity or identity crisis from the off, managing to juggle various different elements and timeframes into a thoroughly charming, consistently entertaining and brilliantly judged piece of filmmaking which has all the charm, whimsy and heart of anything Disney put his name to. Fundamentally it presents a dramatisation of the early pre-production work that went into the making of the Mary Poppins movie back in the early 1960’s, which saw the cantankerous and principled author of the original books, P. L. Travers (a resplendent Emma Thompson) come to loggerheads with a determined Walt Disney (Tom Hanks, who suggests rather than imitates the famous studio head) who saw the opportunity to alter her works through a more fantastical and family-friendly filter that she expressly loathed. 

Much of the joy and brilliance of Saving Mr Banks comes from the charismatic and beautifully played clash of artistry, ideology and indeed character that comes from the battle of wills and intent between Travers and Disney, courtesy of two terrific central performances. Emma Thompson is the fire and passion of the film, giving an astonishing tour-de-force turn of stunning precision and comedic timing. Her Travers is suitably sharp, proper and impervious to compromise, a seemingly contradictory whirlwind of still chaos amongst the jubilance and pep of the Disney studios and the man himself. Thompson does a remarkable job of mining pathos and sincerity out of what on the page could easily have been depicted as cold, embittered and unfeeling. With a superlative command of character and performance, Travers’ as a highly reluctant and supremely English fish-out-of-water lends the film much of its surprisingly effective and prevalent comedic slant. 

Tom Hanks circles Disney, skirting around and hinting at the man himself, capturing something of his spirit and larger-than-life presence as opposed to base imitation. As professed by Hanks himself, he neither looks nor sounds particularly like Uncle Walt did, but in spirit and essence he is able to capture both the child-like love for creativity and imagination as well as the sense of a powerful, beloved media mogul who achieved what he did with just cause. He serves as a terrific foil to Thompson’s Travers and the two are so beautifully and dynamically opposed in every way, yet fiercely similar in artistic ferocity, that it is something of a surprise these events have not been adapted to narrative sooner. 

Running concurrent with the movie adaptation storyline are a series of flashbacks which depict Travers’ somewhat difficult childhood growing up in Australia. Some of the resonance and relevance of these flashbacks sequences are both touching and delicately interwoven, and there are plenty of hidden nods and winks for ardent fans of the Poppins movie, but at times it is hard to not feel they linger on the point long after it has been made.

Outside of the film’s core structure, other highlights not yet mentioned include Thomas Newman’s beautiful scoring which also elegantly and organically accommodates the original Mary Poppins’ score and musical numbers, and sterling support from its wider cast including Paul Giamatti as Travers’ well-meaning driver, Ruth Wilson as her despairing, unhappy mother and young Annie Rose Buckley putting in a spirited debut as young Travers in Australia. 

In all, Saving Mr. Banks is a wonderful and welcome surprise, a brilliantly executed, thoroughly entertaining slice of character study mixed with a hearty dose of fish-out-of-water comedy and a very winning battle of wills. It is a feel-good crowd-pleaser in the most unabashed and endearing sense, carried with vim and vigour by Emma Thompson’s stunning, controlled central performance, and, much like Mickey himself - a little heavy on the cheese perhaps, but nonetheless irrepressibly joyful, funny, exuberant and bursting with both undeniable charm and genuine heart.


A disappointingly scant selection of bonus features that check off some of the pre-requisites but nonetheless given the quality and craft of the film itself it would have been nice to see more of archive and audio footage of the actual conversations and meetings with Travers and the team at Disney (as briefly glimpsed during the films end credits) and a more thorough look into the making of the film itself. There are three deleted scenes, which, granted, are full scenes in and of themselves, roughly around the 2 minute mark each, though it is easy to appreciate why each have been cut as they are mostly re-iterations of what is already elsewhere in the film (in particular an extended departure of Travers from the Disney lot, which is essentially a more sedated repeat of the scene it would have followed in the film).

There's a winningly nostalgic guide through Disney of old up until now as we are taken through memory and footage of the studio over the years, including the era of Mary Poppins' production, but as sweet and well-natured as it is, it ultimately feels like filler, with staff and officials waxing lyrical about memories of old, and again ties in with the overall criticism of how the special features presented here do not explore the production of the Saving Mr. Banks' movie itself in any sort of meaningful detail. Perhaps a more robust version will follow in future.

MOVIE RATING: * * * * * (5 out of 5 Stars)
HOME RELEASE (transfer, bonus features etc.): * * * (3 out of 5 Stars) 

SAVING MR. BANKS is OUT NOW on Blu-Ray, DVD, Ultraviolet and Digital Formats nationwide in the UK.

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This review copy of Saving Mr. Banks was provided courtesy of Walt Disney Home Entertainment, a subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company UK and Ireland, directly. (A)musings Media gratefully acknowledges their contribution and support.

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