Saturday, March 1, 2014

Review of SAVING MR. BANKS: A Spoonful of Cinematic Sugar

February 28, 2014

"Mary Poppins" is a classic 1964 Walt Disney film starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke.  It tells of a magical nanny who was "practically perfect in every way."  Ms. Andrews plays her firm, but kind and loving.  She floated in midair with her umbrella, slid up the banister and said snappy expressions like "supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!" 

This innovative film featured interaction between animated figures with live actors, contributing to its huge box office success. Its soundtrack album (with memorable songs like "A Spoonful of Sugar," "Jolly Holiday," and the Oscar-winning "Chim Chim Cheree") almost sold as much as the other big soundtrack that same year, the Beatles' "A Hard Day's Night". This film launched Julie Andrews into movie stardom and won her the Oscar for Best Actress.

"Saving Mr. Banks" recounts the story of how the film "Mary Poppins" came to be. Author P.L. Travers, was adamant in keeping her precious character Mary away from Hollywood until rough financial times force her to concede. But, she made sure she would not make it easy for the man who wants the movie made, even if he was Walt Disney himself.

Emma Thompson plays the bitter curmudgeon P.L. Travers so well, like it was second nature. We see her literally giving Mr. Disney an impossibly hard time (like, how can you make a film without the color red?), yet we completely see where she is coming from. She plays someone so unpleasant, yet we will still be charmed. Too bad Ms. Thompson was caught in a year with so many vital female lead performances, that she missed what should have been an automatic Oscar nomination.

Tom Hanks is too much a superstar with such a distinct look to completely disappear into another iconic Hollywood figure, Walt Disney. However, if you see beyond how the actor looked like, Hanks amazingly captured the essence of the man Disney - - his joie de vivre, his passion, his optimism.  I was expecting him to be nominated for his supporting role here together with his lead performance in "Captain Phillips."  Too bad, he missed out on both.

Colin Farrell plays the flawed father of Travers whose life and death haunted his daughter her whole life. Farrell comes up with a deep and sensitive performance that we rarely saw from him before.  The Mr. Banks in the film's title refers to the father of the family that Mary worked as nanny for, Mr. George Banks, father of Jane and Michael Banks, played by David Tomlinson in the 1964 film.  There is an astute parallelism made in this current film between the relationship of Mr. Banks and his kids with Travers' own relationship with her father.

It was very surprising that this very well-made film hardly made a dent in the Oscar nomination list, earning only one nod for Musical Score. I thought it would get more since it was very well-made, so delightful yet effectively touching.  Fans of "Mary Poppins" will surely enjoy this look back at the process of how the movie was made and how those wonderful songs were written. This is a neat, old-fashioned film that will truly move even the hardest of hearts.  That powerful ending at the premiere night totally got to me.   

"Mary Poppins" was a favorite film of mine from my childhood. "Saving Mr. Banks" is a perfect companion piece, giving the older film an additional nostalgic dimension and more personal touch. 8/10. 

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