Saving Mr. Banks review: behold the unclassic curmudgeon

Saving Mr Banks green light Tom Hanks Emma Thompson

A smart, snappy, soulful look at how Mary Poppins got Disneyfied, and the redemptive power of story for both teller and listener.
I’m “biast” (pro): adore the cast

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

PL. Travers is not a very nice woman. She’s a classic curmudgeon. As she boards her flight to Los Angeles in 1961 to meet with the Walt Disney to discuss transferring her wildly popular novel about nanny Mary Poppins to the big screen, she is so unenthusiastic about the prospect that she announces, “I hope we crash.” This is a wonderful thing. Not just because curmudgeons are always so much fun in a well-told story — as the smart, snappy, soulful Saving Mr. Banks is — but because we don’t get protagonists like this in movies. The grumps are always men. But wonder of wonders, here we have Travers, who isn’t pursuing romance or protecting children or battling cancer, the things women typically get to do in movies, if they get to do anything at all. Nope. She is fighting for the integrity of her artistic vision. This never happens in The Movies. Emma Thompson (Beautiful Creatures) is clearly getting a lot of personal glee out of the role, as her Mrs. Travers — as she insists on being called, California casualness be damned — slings raised eyebrows and scowls like the devastating weapons they are at Disney (Tom Hanks [Cloud Atlas], as delightful as ever) as he attempts to turn Mary Poppins into “one of your silly cartoons,” Travers sneers. Why Travers is so protective of her book goes beyond the usual authorial guardianship and a perfectly reasonable disdain for Disney: the story is a very personal one for her, as we discover in extended flashbacks of her childhood in turn-of-the-20th-century Australia. (Oh my goodness, but Colin Farrell [Epic] as her dad is powerful in a way we haven’t seen the actor before; at first we see him as his young daughter does, as a happy-go-lucky free spirit, and later we come to realize that he was probably manic-depressive in a time before we knew what that meant.) Even as Travers very gradually begins to be won over by Disney, this message is never lost: storytelling can be a redemptive act for both teller and listener, and something worth fighting for no matter which end we’re on.

viewed during the 57th BFI London Film Festival

Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers [Amazon U.S.] [Amazon Canada] [Amazon U.K.]

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