While a film about the acquisition of rights and the subsequent adaption of P.L. Travers’ Mary Poppins by Disney may seem and sound like an absolute treat, Saving Mr. Banks isn’t at all. Instead, it is cliché-ridden, predictable, and completely dull.
This film follows Travers (Emma Thompson) as she attempts to maintain her serious vision of the magical nanny in the film adaption of her novel. Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) has a conflicting vision involving musical numbers, animated dancing penguins, and Dick Van Dyke. Travers has immediate say over everything through a loophole, so they have to find a way to compromise. Quote-unquote HILARITY ensues.
This imagining of a true story involves showing Travers’ motivation behind every decision made through flashbacks. Lots and lots of flashbacks. They show most of her issues with Disney’s fluffier version have to do with some of her daddy problems (daddy portrayed by Colin Farrell). I counted — there were eighteen flashbacks over the course of the 125 minute film. The average length of the flashbacks are one minute long, meaning about every six minutes, there is a flashback, which is simply insane. Or more aptly, poor writing. A few flashbacks can be innovative. This massive over-saturation of them? A narrative crutch which creates an uneven pace throughout the film. The audience is given a bit of story, just long enough to get engaged, and then is immediately thrown into a flashback.
These flashbacks give some insight into Travers background. If they were used more sparingly, they would have had emotional value. But they weren’t, so they don’t. Showing everything isn’t always the only answer — one of the best moments of the film is when Walt Disney tells her a story about his father. It is told through monologue, not through flashback. It gives more emotional weight to him than to any scene from the childhood of the author.
The acting was generally pretty good. Emma Thompson did her very best to make a one-note character a little more interesting. Colin Farrell, who I generally like, gives a solid performance with a lot of range. Every moment with Jason Schwartzman, Bradley Whitford, and B.J. Novak, the screenwriting team, is delightful. They had the lucky chance to work with some of the more inspired writing of the film. Paul Giamatti, playing Travers’ limo driver, is unfortunately a wasted talent.
Tom Hanks battles some problems, resulting in a middling performance. There is an uphill battle in his portrayal of Walt Disney for numerous reasons; Disney is one of the most famous people to ever exist. Anyone playing him would face some difficulties. However, Hanks has even more, because he too is rather famous. When he’s fully in character, showing 100% commitment, like did in Captain Phillips, you believe everything he does or says. He is Captain Phillips. When he isn’t fully committed, it’s incredibly distracting to see Tom Hanks on screen. In this role, he fell into the latter of his performance categories. I can only remember one time when he does reach his full potential, which is in the scene I mentioned earlier.
There isn’t really anything interesting going on at any point of the film. There is no innovation in any aspect. The story is typical, the acting is good, the direction is bland, the writing is uneven, the score is uninspired (surprising, as it comes from the great Thomas Newman who did WALL-E), even the costume design is average. It is full of mediocrity any way I try to look at it.
Yet, when the credits of Saving Mr. Banks rolled, those around me, critics and not, seemed to be absolutely joyous. The friend who came with me cried at a few points, and she wasn’t the only one in the cinema who did so. How other people look at this mediocrity-filled film and see such a gorgeous, moving picture? I even heard people compare the film to works of Spielberg-ian classics!
Sentimentality. This is why I thoroughly despise this film and others seem to love it. Sentimentality affects some people differently than others. With most, they receive a warm fuzzy feeling inside, as if they see something truly special. About 75% of the time I encounter this raw emotional tone, I feel completely and utterly manipulated. I guess I prefer cynical works, with a less idealistic perspective of the planet and those who inhabit it. These films seem to work for me more than those of this type.
Please do not misinterpret me. I do believe my prior criticisms are valid. I do feel the direction, writing, and so on, are painfully mediocre, with the energy (or lack thereof) of a dead battery. But do know the type of film I typically love as well as the reaction most others have for it. If you, dear readers, enjoy films with high amounts of sentimentality (like, for example, recent Spielberg efforts War Horse or Lincoln) or feel a fair bit of nostalgia for older Disney flicks (which I do not), you may find quite a bit more enjoyment in Saving Mr. Banks than I have. And I envy you.