Saving Mr. Banks (2013)

(On Cable TV, November 2013) Disney’s become astonishingly self-referential over the past few years, riffing off its history in ways that would have seemed almost parodic not too long ago.  After such films as Enchanted, Maleficient, Into the Woods, or live-action Cinderella, this is more than the reflection of an increasingly degenerate pop-culture implosion: it’s a deliberate corporate strategy, meant to groom another generation of fans as much as re-gain an older one.  The stature of Disney is made bigger with the promotion of its own history, and it’s in that spirit that Saving Mr Banks goes all the way back to the fifties to offer not only a romanced look at the making of Mary Poppins, but also a myth-defining portrayal of Walt Disney by none other than Tom Hanks himself.  Giving him repartee is Emma Thompson as the magnificently acerbic P.L. Travers, author of the original Mary Poppins story and definitely reluctant to let anyone adapt it to the screen.  Interspaced in-between the gradual seduction of Travers are flashbacks to her childhood in Australia, dealing with a self-destructive father (another interesting secondary role for Colin Farrell).  Even if not a single frame of Mary Poppins is shown on-screen, some passing familiarity with the film is best in order to catch some of the jokes and allusions.  A gentle character study, Saving Mr. Banks is at its best in detailing Travers’ perpetual scowl, and Disney’s constant sunniness, along with the behind-the-scenes look at Mary Poppins’ pre-production.  It’s unfortunately not as interesting in its seemingly endless flashbacks, as essential as they can be in defining Travers’ character.  Still, the result has its moments and it works even if you’re not really in the mood for some deliberate Disney myth-making.

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