Sat 3 Dec 2016
Here is an interesting situation. I love cinema and I like the ‘movies about movies’ genre which I believe has provided some of the best films in the history of the seventh art. Saving Mr. Banks is however a film about a movie that I did not like – Mary Poppins. I was a kid when it was released but I was already disliking melodramas and I failed to be captivated by musicals unless they included my kind of favorite music which was pop and rock. I am still looking for a film by the Walt Disney studios that is credible and contains enough emotion and less sugar to make me feel good during the screening and after it. Director John Lee Hancock‘s film about the making of Mary Poppins could not change my mind. From my point of view the film inherits many of the flaws of the original. Of course, fans of the original may like Saving Mr. Banks as well, but I do not belong to the category.
The period is the early 60s, the action takes place in London and California, but do not expect anything about the emergence of the pop or hippies to show up in screen. The background is actually exactly the world against which the pop and hippie movements revolted. Famous British writer P.L. Travers goes to Los Angeles to work on the screen adaptation of her novel by famous producer (and theme parks owner, and author of the most charming animated cartoons in history) Walt Disney and his studios. The cultural clash between the two personalities although filled of stereotypes is the funniest part of the film, with the feelings of the estranged author surrounded by what she considers the Californian kitsch superbly brought to screen by Emma Thompson. I like much less the parallel story line about the childhood of the author where the authors of the script of Saving Mr. Banks sought the ‘deep’ motivation of the novel and the resulting film. All this parallel run of the stories looked to me melodramatic and superficial. The scene that is supposed to be the emotional peak, with Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) flying to London to reverse the decision of the author and obtain the screening rights includes a short speech that is close to ridiculous.
We all know the end of the story. Mary Poppins was eventually made, it was the first ‘serious’, big stars, big screen movie of the studios which have achieved in the decades after a front range position with combinations of the animated and actors movies, becoming champions of the ‘family films’ genre. The film about its making gathers a lot of acting talents, beside Hanks (who must have put about 15 extra kilos for this role) and Thompson we have Colin Farrell in the role of the loving but failed father of the writer and Paul Giamatti in a charming supporting role of the only Californian that P.L. Travers ended by really liking.
‘Saving Mr. Banks’ eventually delivers what some people and the producers expect from it – squeezing tears. It does it however the same way the original ‘Mary Poppins’ film did – using the melodrama tools. So it’s a melodrama about the making of a melodrama. Nothing more, a little less. Mary Poppins had the music.