Practically Imperfect In Every Way: SAVING MR. BANKS Film Review

By at December 13, 2013 | 11:41 pm | Print

3 / 5 stars

Saving Mr Banks Movie PosterThough a small handful of actors has portrayed Walt Disney in shorts and TV movies, the American entertainment icon has really never been played on the big screen. It would seem a fine choice then, that Disney (the company) would select another American icon, Tom Hanks, to play Disney (the man). But Hanks’ performance, as with much of Saving Mr. Banks, is a (Disney) World away from what it could have been, and should have been. Saving Mr. Banks is being promoted as award-worthy, Disney Studios positioning it as one of the year’s best films; in reality, it’s one of 2013’s biggest disappointments. (Click on the movie poster for a closer look.)

What movie fan wouldn’t look forward to this one? Hanks as the legendary Disney and Emma Thompson playing author P.L. Travers, in a behind-the-curtain look at their contentious relationship as the persistent Disney worked to get Travers’ Mary Poppins into production. Yet, the lead performances are as colorless as Steamboat Willie, appropriate for a film that’s surprisingly humdrum and often predictable.

Not that director John Lee Hancock is befuddled by the predictable. Both The Blind Side and Disney’s The Rookie are effective true-life family tearjerkers from Hancock, who does the genre well by making good use of solid performances and big-screen energy. Here, Hancock senses he has less to work with, and pushes too hard with clumsy attempts to force the emotional waterworks in the final act. Writers Sue Smith and Kelly Marcel (the latter is your Fifty Shades of Grey screenwriter, folks) rely on the standard flashback formula in the Search for Deeper Meaning, moving back and forth between the early 1960s in California and Travers’ troubled childhood in Australia.

The script and Hancock are struggling for wispy, sentimental connections between the two stories but there’s little elegance, and it’s hard to tell exactly what’s inspiring Travers’ recollections. The regular journeys Down Under do, however, deliver some of the film’s more interesting setpieces, with Colin Farrell quickly establishing himself as Saving Mr. Banks’ true star, playing Travers’ volatile, drunkard father. Farrell is passionate and sad, breaking more than a few hearts in the audience as a loving guy who slips out of control.

What’s particularly sad, however, is that the action in 1906 Australia and 1961 Anaheim feels like it’s in two completely different movies. I’d venture to say nearly every scene at the Disney Studios is appropriate for a young kid, but nearly none of the sequences in the Outback are. The contrast is not artistically jarring in any way; it’s just a disconnect.

Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson in Saving Mr BanksIt’s difficult to imagine Tom Hanks mailing in a part, but it appears to be the case in his portrayal of Disney. Hanks’ charm is unmistakable but it’s also an intrinsic part of his persona; when it overcomes a lack of characterization, all you see is Tom Hanks in a mustache and well-tailored suit. For her part, Thompson is certainly competent as Travers but she’s either perpetually stuffy or in a state of unexplained catharsis. She does a lot of lip-pursing, not the stuff of award-winning performances (you simply have to disregard the Golden Globes).

The best-played scenes in Saving Mr. Banks occur just where they should: In the rehearsal room, where we the legendary Sherman Brothers (the well-cast Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak) are working out songs that have now been etched into cinema history, trying to please the boss and hold up their pride while playing to a prissy, unhappy Brit. The moments are there. The story has a chance. But in the world of Disney entertainment, this is far from an E-ticket ride.

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2 Comments


  1. Paul Jellicoe, 3 years ago Reply

    I’m still going to check this movie out but seems a bit disappointing amidst all the hype that was generated, such a shame, this has the marks of a classic bio movie.


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