What is it about this movie so many of us love so much? At first blush, it sounds boring as all get out. Disney woos a recalcitrant author of children’s books who reminds us of J. M. Barrie for film rights to her book. Now, it’s a sad person who doesn’t like Mary Poppins, but this back story to film rights? Who cares, right? It turns out a lot of us do. While it may not match the reality of a more complex and less happy story, the movie version is a story of freeing redemption. Mrs. Travers (neither the honorific nor the name are fully real) is released from the past, Mr. Banks is redeemed and, thus, Mrs. Travers’s love for her father. So it’s a great story with universal themes. What truly makes this a fabulous movie is the execution – it is told well. The cast is terrific with amazing depth to all the roles, that talent is well used and the editing is spot on. There are a couple of side stories that only add to the film rather than distract from it. Like the side stories, the cinematography is beautiful and subservient to the story. This is a visual story about two storytellers and every element in the film is focused on that story.
Not enough, of course, can be said for Emma Thompson. This role seemed designed for her. She can pull off the arm’s length, proper person even while reigning in a biting sense of humor. Anyone who can provide an Austenian acceptance speech at the Golden Globes can embody Mrs. Travers.
Tom Hanks impeccably personifies Walt Disney. He comfortably inhabits the role of Disney being able, in turns, to be genuine and pull out all of the charm. It was probably providential that it took 20 years for Mrs. Travers to meet with Mr. Disney. I doubt his ego could have taken the constant hits from so much distain for all he has done were he not near the zenith of his career.
Colin Ferrell is at his most charming, warmest self. There is no part of the movie where it looks like he’s acting and the dynamic, close relationship he displays with the young Ginty (AKA Lyndon AKA Helen Lyndon Goff), admirably played by Annie Rose Buckley, is beautiful to behold. He captures the witty, caring father compulsively addicted to alcohol and its related destructive behavior.
One of the highlights of this film is the depth of great acting in the supporting roles. Here, I’ll just highlight a few:
- Paul Giamatti as Ralph, the driver, was brilliant. Unerringly American, he keeps his cultural identity despite the many deprecating remarks of Mrs. Travers. It was wonderful to see their relationship develop to one of genuine care.
- The writing and musical team of Don DaGradi and the Sherman brothers played by Bradley Whitford, B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman were simply a joy to see in action. I particularly loved how B. J. Novack’s Robert Sherman stood up to Mrs. Travers because, well, someone must.
- Finally, while not having much screen time, Rachel Griffiths’ peerless portrayal of Aunt Ellie as the real life inspiration for Mary Poppins was spot on. I particularly like how she came off hard edged but caring. It’s likely I wouldn’t want to hang out with her, but I would understand and appreciate her.
A stellar cast, marvelous cinematography by none other than John Schwartzman (I loved his work on Seabiscuit), good supporting soundtrack by Thomas Newman and deft direction under John Lee Hancock (gotta love that name) all align to tell a great and universally appealing story. Simply put, this is one of my favorite films of 2013, which I finally saw in 2014. If you missed it in the theaters, get it from Redbox, download it or better yet, buy it. This is one of the rare occasions where I rented a movie at Redbox and am still going to buy it.
Saving Mr. Banks Blu-ray & Digitall @ Amazon
Saving Mr. Banks DVD @ Amazon