Advanced Screening Review: Saving Mr Banks


Saving Mr. Banks (2013)

Director: John Lee Hancock.

Starring: Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks

Advanced Screening:

For Every Laugh, There Should Be A Tear – Walt Disney

Forget everything you think you know about ‘Saving Mr. Banks’ and the Mary Poppins story. Going into a Disney studio film about the uptight Australian born British author P.L Travers being seduced by a charismatic Walt Disney to give away the rights to her famous children’s story ‘Marry Poppins’, and coming from the director of the sentimental ‘Blind Side’, one is overcome with a foreboding sense of an impending onslaught of schamltz and sentimentality. The result, however, is a surprisingly film which is insightful, splendidly acted and deeply moving.

Although the first act of the film begins with a good helping of light-hearted schmaltz and overacting, as the film progresses the expectations of the audience are slowly subverted through a darker tone present in the flashbacks revealing the true story of ‘Marry Poppins’ from P.L. Travers childhood. After 20 years of trying Disney finally persuades the hard-nosed and rational Pamela Travers to come to Hollywood to discuss a film adaptation of her story. Disgusted at Hollywood’s book to film adaptations and Disney’s style of filmmaking the imperious Travers does not trust the system to capture or understand the true essence of her beloved story and what it means to her. However just as Pamela Travers is slowly seduced by the savy business man Walt to the Disney magic entertainment-machine so are we the audience seduced by the charm of the film and happy to be. The film is also a journey of closure and victory over a traumatic past in which Travers used the story of ‘Mary Poppins’ as a way of saving her tragic whimsical alcoholic father.

The movie simply wouldn’t work without the bravura Oscar worthy performance of Emma Thompson, the heart, eyes, ears and soul of the film. Starting out as a prickly unlikable woman, Thompson is able to create a rich character portrait of a woman who could not forgive herself for her past. Strictly speaking ‘Saving Mr Banks’ doesn’t always appear entirely historically authentic with the edges softened and the ending white-washing how conflicted the relationship between Travers and Disney really was. The film also doesn’t reveal that Pamela Travers was actually a feminist and bisexual, nor does it hint at Disney’s notorious anti-Semitism. The flashback to her childhood is set in an Americanised ‘Gone With The Wind’ romantic Australia populated by people with dubious accents.

The duality between the fun, comedy and wonder of the fictional story of ‘Mary Poppins’ and the darker, deeper and tragic reality of Travers childhood represent the two overarching themes of the film. Firstly Walt Disney’s storytelling philosophy that ‘for every laugh, there should be a tear’ which illuminates a much greater truth of life and drama: for there to be light there must be darkness, suffering makes joy sweeter, death makes life more alive. The flashbacks to Travers childhood deal with some heavy subject matters including suicide, alcoholism and depression. The second theme is the idea of the creative reinvention of the self through art. The pain that comes when art personally created has to be given away, akin to giving a part of yourself away. I cried. I laughed. And as scenes from the original classic played I felt like a little kid again watching ‘Marry Poppins’ with an adult sense of how it came to be.

8/10              A-            ***1/3

My review at The Feed Magazine:

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: