Nostalgia. It's the reason I loved Super 8 despite many flaws, and the reason I HATED Spiderman 3 (for good reason).
Beautifully ambitious and eagerly constructed, the success of Walt Disney Studios' homage to its heritage is anchored magnificently by the crowning work of Emma Thompson's career. John Lee Hancock's Saving Mr. Banks is a tenderly affectionate tale featuring one of the year's finest ensembles. Following a classic three act structure, when the film begins, it undoubtedly lifts off and hooks you almost immediately. There's no denying the glamour, chemistry, and witchery that the film sets on you. Saving Mr. Banks is feverishly delightful.
In 1961, Walt Disney invited P.L Travers, the author of "Mary Poppins", to his California studios to discuss the possibility of acquiring the rights to her book - a discussion that Mr. Disney had initially sparked twenty years prior. For those two decades, the proud author refused to depart with her precious work in fear of Hollywood's mutilation of it and repeatedly told Mr. Persistent to go 'fly a kite… up to the highest heights'. However, when sales of her book begin to dwindle and with a rough economic climate ahead, Travers reluctantly agreed to travel across the Atlantic to hear what the impresario had to say. This untold backstory of how Travers' classic work of literature made it to the big screen provides the substance for John Lee Hancock's Saving Mr. Banks.
Here, we have an American icon that plays an American icon. Two-time Academy Award winner Tom Hanks delivers extraordinary sense of character as he renders Mr. Walt Disney with expert attention to detail. "There's a lot of voice work, the way he walks, the body positions, the way he holds his hands, the way he touches his moustache. How he phrases things and lets sentences roll off the end", Hancock remarks - and so Tom Hanks becomes the public face for Walt Disney and we learn of the man behind the mask (with two fluffy ears).
As good as Hanks is, however, he's just a bit too nice. Come on, we all know that Walt Disney was an arsehole, but here he's portrayed as a loveable sap who's just doing this for his children. I wanted just a bit more manipulation and, most importantly, I wanted him to chain smoke and drink every scene he's in. That pretty much is what makes Disney, Disney. It's very cynical from Disney and very conglomerate to hide the facts about their man. I felt a bit cheated.
As an unbridled, even at times downright vicious P.L. Travers, Thompson hasn't pursued and thrived in a character of such complexities since James Ivory directed her to an Oscar in Howard's End over twenty years ago. Travers' mannerisms and moral guidelines are captured charmingly by the creative team. Thompson and director Hancock clearly worked closely together to nail the nuance of the central character's focus. She buries herself in the time, and that of designer Daniel Orlandi's stunning costume work, to be the perfect entity of a fruitful tale. Playing the young Travers, Annie Rose Buckley is cute as a button and has some real juicy moments to sink her teeth into.
Marcel and Smith's script is pure gold. There is such a dynamic and balance of charming and witty comedy tied in with heart wrenching and polarizing drama. Their assembling of the movie era, capturing subtle inequities of the business, and painting a magical story, will likely stand as one of the screenplays of the year. There is a heavy yet almost invisible component of layered despondency that the two writers choose to include that make the film truly sing.
Where the film slightly missteps is in the way that John Lee Hancock chooses to execute throughout. "Banks" essentially tells two stories. One of the present time during the production of "Mary Poppins" and the other of P.L. Travers' childhood. Hancock chooses to tell these two stories simultaneously, awkwardly transitioning from one time period to the other, and ripping us away from the story we're desperately invested in. In many ways, his direction will be seen in the same reactionary split of Tom Hooper's Les Miserables. There will be some, likely many, that will have no problem with his bumbling alterations in certain scenes and there will be some, like myself, that sees that he's still has a long way to go. Not gunning him down as a complete disaster, he has about three instances where the potential and vision are clearly realized. Hancock knows how to tug at the heartstrings.
When a scene works, it really, really works. Pretty much perfectly. He accomplishes it with the utmost confidence and brilliant demeanor. A tightly paced and pivotal scene involving the song "A British Bank" showcases Hancock's best varieties, and also that of co-star Colin Farrell, although his Australian accent was non-existent and he didn't seem to want to act until the middle of the film.
For my money, everything connects and rises during the creation of "Let's Go and Fly a Kite." The cast comes together and unifies in such a harmonious fashion and Hancock chooses to utilize all the supporting players including that of the wonderful Bradley Whitford, the witty BJ Novak, and in his best turn yet, Jason Schwartzman. Hancock operates these three men in an ingenious method. Paul Giamatti is a compassionate force, especially in his exchanges with Thompson while Ruth Wilson makes me absolutely adore the ground in which she walks.
It made me laugh, it made me cry and it certainly brought back memories. I enjoyed it very much. It's a wonderfully charming film and, for me, it shows the pure brilliance of Mary Poppins. The cast is wonderful, the music is obviously incredible and the script is near perfect, but it's the themes that are nailed on tightly and breathtakingly.