Saving Mr. Banks
dir John Lee Hancock
scr Kelly Marcel, Sue Smith
prd Ian Collie, Alison Owen, Philip Steuer
with Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Colin Farrell, Paul Giamatti, Ruth Wilson, Annie Buckley, Bradley Whitford, Jason Schwartzman, BJ Novak, Rachel Griffiths, Kathy Baker, Melanie Deanne Moore
release UK 29.Nov.13, US 13.Dec.13
13/UK Disney 2h06
Saving Mr. Banks
The happiest place on earth: Hanks and Thompson

farrell giamatti wilson
london film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Saving Mr. Banks After veering dangerously close to becoming an overproduced slush-fest, this film digs deeper and draws us in. This is mainly thanks to a remarkably detailed script and especially sharp performances from Thompson and Hanks. Yes, the Disney spirit (and marketing machine) nearly swamps it, but the film remains lively, moving and thoroughly entertaining.

In 1961, after 20 years of begging, Walt Disney (Hanks) was finally on the cusp of getting Pamela Travers (Thompson) to sign over the rights to Mary Poppins. But she wanted to make sure he wasn't going to destroy her beloved creation, so demanded veto power to work with the screenwriter (Whitford) and composers (Schwartzman and Novak). Pamela drives everyone crazy with her demands, as Walt tries to figure out what it is she's really upset about. And it turns out that Mary Poppins is deeply rooted in her own childhood.

Intercut with this story are flashbacks to 1906 Australia, where a young Travers (Buckley) lives with her doting father (Farrell) and exhausted mother (Wilson). Her father's lurking alcoholism drives much of this plot-strand, which feels somewhat simplistic even though it's beautifully shot and played like a separate film woven in among the much more colourful scenes of Travers and Disney in Los Angeles.

Thompson gets the tone exactly right in these scenes, adding a shadow of darkness in everything Travers says and does, even as her dialog is packed with hilariously withering one-liners. Her interaction with everyone at Disney is prickly and awkward, but Thompson balances the nastiness with an underlying curiosity. And her tetchy scenes with her driver (Giamatti) are a nice touch. Meanwhile, Hanks counters with a buoyant turn that combines the larger-than-life Disney we know with a more determined businessman, plus some stronger introspective scenes.

The film is jam-packed with references to Disney's iconic film. And of course those catchy songs. Yes, we know that Travers will sign over the rights, but how she gets to that point is fascinating, as is her visceral reaction to watching the movie version for the first time. Director Hancock can't help cranking up emotions and making every scene just a little too lovely, but as grittier undercurrents emerge, he finds resonance in a lightly handled message about not letting the past dictate our lives. And about the redemptive value of storytellers.

cert pg themes, some grisliness 20.Oct.13 lff

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© 2013 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall