Review – Saving Mr Banks

The story behind one of cinema’s most magical family classics is told in a shamelessly self-congratulatory, but ever-so  supercalifragilisticexpialidocious way in Disney’s warm-spirited love letter.

Saving Mr Banks may be a giant spoonful of sugar, but it's charm and outstanding performances certainly help the medicine to go down

Saving Mr Banks may be a giant spoonful of sugar, but it’s charm and outstanding performances certainly help the medicine to go down

From the moment Julie Andrews flew in to the lives of the Banks family courtesy of her magic umbrella, generations of moviegoers young and old were swept away by Walt Disney’s beloved 1964 adaptation of P.L Travers’ iconic Mary Poppins.

Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) promises he won't let Mrs Travers (Emma Thompson) down in Saving Mr Banks

Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) promises he won’t let Mrs Travers (Emma Thompson) down in Saving Mr Banks

Saving Mr Banks chronicles the tireless efforts of Mr Disney (Tom Hanks) to persuade Mrs Travers (Emma Thompson) to relinquish the rights to her hugely popular children’s novel. Flown over to LA at the Mouse House’s expense, she attends a two-week workshop with co-writer Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford) and composer/lyricists Richard M Sherman (Jason Schwartzman) and Robert B Sherman (BJ Novak) to determine whether she’s happy (or not) with the direction the studio wants to take with the picture.

Mrs Travers (Emma Thompson) seems unimpressed with LA when picked up by her chauffeur Ralph (Paul Giamatti) in Saving Mr Banks

Mrs Travers (Emma Thompson) seems unimpressed with LA when picked up by her chauffeur Ralph (Paul Giamatti) in Saving Mr Banks

As Walt and co work on winning over Mrs Travers, the experience stirs up memories to her childhood spent in Australia at the turn of the century with her mother Margaret (Ruth Wilson) and alcoholic, but deeply loving bank manager father Robert (Colin Farrell).

Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) himself at Disneyland in Saving Mr Banks

Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) himself at Disneyland in Saving Mr Banks

Disney has wallowed in the syrup of sentiment and schmaltz more than once, so it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to learn a film in which the Mouse House raises a glass of milk to itself and celebrates the genius of its founder is unadulterated whimsy. But it’s whimsy with a heart and an old-fashioned charm that’s irresistible to resist.

Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) promises he won't let Mrs Travers (Emma Thompson) down in Saving Mr Banks

Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) promises he won’t let Mrs Travers (Emma Thompson) down in Saving Mr Banks

The cast is truly splendid. Thompson, who’s seen too rarely on our screens, is terrific as the prim and proper sourpuss Mrs Travers, who must learn to let go of her painful past and trust in Mr Disney in order to finally move forwards. It’s a masterfully restrained performance, one that thaws authentically as she gets taken in by the genuine love and respect Disney and the gang have for the material.

Mrs Travers remembers her youth with her father (played by Colin Farrell) in Saving Mr Banks

Mrs Travers remembers her youth with her father (played by Colin Farrell) in Saving Mr Banks

She’s matched by Hanks’ charming turn as ol’ Walt, a character that’s far removed from his recent turn as Captain Phillips. Hanks is perfect and brings a charismatic authority to the role that hints at the steely businessman who’s built an empire out of the vision of a friendly little mouse. The scene he shares with Mrs Travers late in the film when he talks about his difficult childhood and the significance her story has had both to his family and countless others is a textbook example of great acting by both Hanks and Thompson.

"Gawd bless Mary Poppins!"

“Gawd bless Mary Poppins!”

Paul Giamatti also gets a great cameo as Mrs Travers’ kind-hearted chauffeur Ralph. It’s the sort of turn that could drip with saccharine, but Giamatti gives it just enough bite.

The recurring flashbacks to Oz are perhaps the film’s weakest point and the parallel narratives between 1907 Queensland and 1961 LA are a little too neat and tidy, but John Lee Hancock’s thoughtful direction is both moving and genuinely funny.

Saving Mr Banks may be a giant spoonful of sugar, but it’s charm and outstanding performances certainly help the medicine to go down.

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11 comments

  1. jjames36 · November 12, 2013

    Very good review! Glad to see it’s so positive. This is one I’m excited to see.

    • Three Rows Back · November 12, 2013

      Thank you so much! It’s not revolutionary or anything but it’s very hard not to warm to. Hope you enjoy it sir!

  2. Nick Powell · November 12, 2013

    So many pictures! lol. Glad it’s great though. Look forward to it!

    • Three Rows Back · November 12, 2013

      If a picture is a thousand words I’ve probably written about 10,000 words :). Gotta love a good image. Look forward to your thoughts when you catch it.

  3. Mark Walker · November 12, 2013

    Great write-up Mark. I’m aware of this one but the is the first review I’ve read. Sounds like a good contrast in Hanks range from his roles this year. Admittedly, I wasn’t overly drawn to this one but you’ve changed my mind.

    • Three Rows Back · November 12, 2013

      Appreciate the kind words Mark. Thought I’d get in early on this. It’s not going to set the wide world of movies alight, but it was difficult not to get swept along by Hanks and Thompson et al.

  4. Terry Malloy's Pigeon Coop · November 13, 2013

    Fine review sir. Glad to see you dug this one. I’m a little on the fence about seeing this one but I’ve decided I’ll try and check it out if I get the chance.

  5. ruth · November 14, 2013

    I’m curious about this one, I kinda figure it’d be a bit schmaltzy but like you said, w/ the right cast, there’s that irresistible charm. Looking forward to seeing this!

    • Three Rows Back · November 14, 2013

      Thanks for the feedback. It’s hardly the greatest film ever made, but it does have an irresistible charm that’s hard not to be swayed by.

  6. Tom · November 20, 2013

    Sterling review sir. I can’t wait to get to this one, you have described it the exact way I hope it would be. Slightly cheesy, but acceptably cheesy and laced with good performances. Tom Hanks does it again. 😀

    • Three Rows Back · November 20, 2013

      Much obliged Tom! It’s no masterpiece, but it’s very hard to dislike and Hanks is, as always, effortlessly good.

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