Movie Reviews

'Saving Mr. Banks' (2013) Movie Review

A pleasing story with a wonderful third act, but a rather tedious opening hour

Saving Mr. Banks movie review
Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson in Saving Mr. Banks
Photo: Walt Disney Pictures

Saving Mr. Banks is a tale of two halves. The first half involves a rather standard setup with more flashbacks than any film need utilize. We're introduced to the ever lovable and determined Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) and the persnickety P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson), author of "Mary Poppins", a book Disney had promised his daughters he'd make into a movie and has spent the better part of 20 years trying to convince Travers to sell him the rights.

'Saving Mr. Banks'
Review
Grade: B-

Saving Mr. Banks"Saving Mr. Banks" is a Walt Disney Pictures release, directed by and is rated PG-13 for thematic elements including some unsettling images. The running time is .

The cast includes , , , , , , , , and .

For more information on this film including pictures, trailers and a detailed synopsis .

However, as much as I grew tired of the looks back on the early life of Travers as the story builds, the second half puts all of those flashbacks into perspective, resulting in a wonderful third act where Thompson shines, giving the film an emotional weight that's as welcomed as much as it is cliched. Hollywood may revel in making movies about making movies, but it's hard to fault them as working with what you know is often a key to effective storytelling and while Saving Mr. Banks isn't a film for the ages, it makes for a satisfying way of spending a couple hours.

In terms of performance, Hanks almost fits the role of Disney too well, either that or he is pretty much just playing himself, but it hardly matters as this is the Emma Thompson show. In fact, the film belongs to almost everyone but Hanks, even though Disney and Travers share a wonderful moment towards the film's end. I don't think it's any measure of a spoiler to tell you Mary Poppins eventually gets made, and to watch Thompson react to the finished project is the climactic moment of Mr. Banks, seconded by an unexpected gem of audio during the end credits.

Extending beyond the two obvious leads, Paul Giamatti gives Travers' personal chauffeur, Ralph, the kind heart Giamatti is prone to giving the characters he embodies and Colin Farrell, playing Travers' father in flashback sequences of the author's tough upbringing in Australia, is great, even though his scenes are largely filled with traditional storytelling tropes as he must play the down-on-his-luck, but loving, father who eventually turns to alcohol for companionship. Nevertheless, his relationship with his daughter (played by 11-year-old Annie Rose Buckley) serves the latter half of the film well.

Consistently entertaining are Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak as the songwriting brothers, Richard and Robert Sherman respectively, and Bradley Whitford as screenwriter Don DaGradi as the trio eventually find themselves locked away with Travers, bending to her every whim and request as to how the story of Mary Poppins should be told, which is to say, most importantly, "No animation!" To that point, her query over how they are going to get actual penguins to dance is yet another one of the film's highlights.

I was a little surprised at how uninteresting Thomas Newman's score for the film was, but then again, the music here is less about the score and more about the now-iconic songs. The costuming is great and I expect Disney fanatics will love every second as it is awash in Disney lore, this being only the third feature film to ever shoot on the hallowed Disneyland grounds... with permission that is.

The biggest issue the film faces is the opening hour or so. Screenwriters Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith dedicate so much time to flashbacks and set up that it grows incredibly tiresome. I understand it's all in an effort to establish the characters for the third act climax, but the story gets bogged down in particulars that seem largely routine for most every film of this sort. The saving grace is Thompson's performance and perhaps in the hands of a lesser performer it wouldn't have held nearly the same impact.

By the film's end, Saving Mr. Banks is an accomplished feature with great performances and an enlightening story. The peek behind the Disney curtain is obviously without much controversy and largely a softball lob down the middle, but it's both pleasing and entertaining once you get to the heart of the story, just that opening hour is a bit of a chore.

GRADE: B-
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  • BradyD

    Looking forward to this one. I would still rank it behind American Hustle, Wolf of Wall Street, and Anchorman 2 in terms of anticipation. Looks like typical Disney fare.

  • http://www.silverscreenriot.com SmartFilm

    While entirely likeable and charming, I really just couldn't get over the fact that this is a Disney movie selling you on the idea of how great Walt Disney was. I mean, the guy is notorious for being an absolute dick and here they painted him like St. Walt. That fact irked me more than I thought it would. And Hanks is fine but aside from that one scene later on, I hardly think this is Oscar worthy work.

    Brad, do you think his performance is necessarily Oscar worthy or just standard Tom Hanks work?

    • GobleGableOneOfUs

      hey but of course he was just a "man of his time" ;) a "product of his environment"

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/kathrynlynn/ kathrynlynn

      I actually didn't think they completely painted him as being such a great man. I think there were hints throughout his performance and little details- like walking in on him smoking, his penchant for whiskey...

      I didn't think it was an oscar worthy performance either... and I agree they definitely didn't show him to be a hard or terrible man, but the film wasn't that type of movie either. They even held back on how terrible travers actually was too.

  • Michael

    Really want to see this one but Brad, you didn't like Thomas Newman's score? I haven't seen the movie (obviously), I listened to Thomas Newman's whole score on it's own and I loved it, I thought it was one of his top 10 best.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Winchester/ Winchester

    I'm definitely going to try and catch it over the coming weeks.

    I'm curious though (I know you may not be able to comment specifically) on whether or not you personally feel Emma Thompson has a shot at taking home Best Actress (assuming the Oscar nomination is a lock of course, which kinda is assumed at the moment) or are you still confident in your belief that Cate Blanchett has it wrapped up? I only ask, because watching Thompson doing the press rounds in the UK reminded me how bloody fun she is and it's her that I'll be going to it for in large part initially.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/TheLastEquivocationofBrist/ TheLastEquivocationofBrist

    Always glad to see a good role for Colin Farrell! (As my avatar suggests).

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/maja/ maja

    I was looking forward to this review. I watched the film a couple of weeks ago and I thought it was terribly average (gave it a C+) but I was interested when you gave hints you quite enjoyed it during the podcasts. I too had serious issues with the flashbacks but what really bugged me was the fact that I struggled to avoid the trailers (I'm sure it played before every film for 2 months at my local cinema) so I couldn't help but look out for bits from the trailer which affected my experience.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Ian/ Ian

    The last Best Picture winner I didn't see (and still haven't) is Chicago. This may be the next one.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Newbourne/ Newbourne

    "I don't think it's any measure of a spoiler to tell you Mary Poppinsev entually gets made"

    No it isn't a spoiler, but to say that her reaction "to the finished project is the climactic moment of Mr. Banks" is definitely a SPOILER.

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Hrtn4Sqrtn/ Hrtn4Sqrtn

      To say something is climatic doesn't imply it was happy or sad. Maybe she hates it and takes a wet deuce on Walt's chest. Maybe she loves it and commits seppuku, knowing she has nothing left to give to this mortal plane. Also most films have climatic moments at the end of them...

      • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Newbourne/ Newbourne

        Hell, I thought the film would end when she gave them the rights, I didn't even think we would get to witness her watching it, let alone featuring a "climactic" reaction at the end. Like I said, it's a big spoiler. I shouldn't know this much about a film's ending from reading a review.

        • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Hrtn4Sqrtn/ Hrtn4Sqrtn

          I see your point. But then again, once you found out it was about Walt Disney and him making Mary Poppins, didn't you already know the whole story? Some back-story, some drama, she wants it one way, he wants it another, a fight ensues. Some reconciliation, forge forward, she see's it in theaters...a tear rolls down the cheek. Fin.

          /I haven't seen the film. Nor will I.

          • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Newbourne/ Newbourne

            Most of that was implied, but the "she sees it in theaters... tear rolls down cheek" was not. They could end it in any way. Like I said, I thought giving him the rights was the climactic end to the film. I didn't even consider any sort of plot going beyond that point.

  • http://www.silverscreenriot.com SmartFilm

    'Saving Mr. Banks' may as well have been called 'How Walt Disney Saved The Day From The Curmudgeonly P.L Travers.' For my C+ review ---> http://bit.ly/1h4X8tk

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Cordia/ Cordia

    Brad nailed this review, really boring first hour and nice last 45 minutes.

  • BronMG

    I found the look of the film to be very commercialized. It just seemed like a sequel to Oz The Great and Powerful minus the CGI. Very shiny and artless.
    The acting and dialogue was great of course but it didnt look at all like a typical Oscar bait film. A little bit of sharp-focus shots would have helped.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/kathrynlynn/ kathrynlynn

    The flashbacks really worked for me here, as did the first hour. I think it's because I felt like I was watching two stories play out at the same time, and I enjoyed the way they edited them all together.... I think if the editing hadn't been as good I would have grown tired of it. But I found both story lines compelling enough, I would at times in fact want to go back to the flashbacks because I was enjoying the performances so much.

    Some of my favorite scenes were in the writers room and seeing the interactions and conversations there, the cast as a whole was really fun to watch.