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Movie Review: Saving Mr. Banks
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Saving Mr Banks Movie Poster

Saving Mr. Banks
Director: John Lee Hancock
Writers: Kelly Marcel, Sue Smith
Cast: Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Paul Giamatti, Jason Schwartzman, Bradley Whitford, Colin Farrell, B.J. Novak
Walt Disney Pictures
Rated PG-13 | 125 Minutes
Release Date: December 20, 2013

Directed by John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side), Saving Mr. Banks centers on the life of Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson), shifting between 1907 with her childhood in Queensland, Australia, the 1961 negotiations with Walt Disney (Tom Hanks), and the subsequent making of Mary Poppins.

While in California for filming, Travers has flashbacks to her difficult childhood in Australia with her sweet but self-destructive father (Colin Farrell), the inspiration for her story’s patriarch, Mr. Banks.

Some film critics, like the immortal Leonard Maltin, have called Saving Mr. Banks “a charming and heartwarming piece of entertainment, highlighted by a handful of superior performances.” I, on the other hand, would call it a nauseating, sentimental piece of corporate propaganda about an anti-Semite and a very British – and very bitchy – author who may or may not be a crazy person.

My main issue with Hancock’s sappy, saccharine film is the way it completely whitewashes Walt Disney. Yes, Disney was an important figure in the history of motion pictures and a visionary storyteller. He was also an anti-Semite, an anti-union slave driver, and a key instigator in the Communist witch hunts of the 1950s.

Tom Hanks as Walt Disney in Saving Mr. Banks

Watching Tom Hanks’ angelic portrayal of Hollywood’s Dark Prince is insulting, but what else would you expect from a film about Walt Disney produced by – you guessed it – the Walt Disney Company. This is pure propaganda, like Leni Riefenstahl’s celebration of the Nazi Party, Triumph of the Will. Speaking of, Disney himself gave Riefenstahl a three-hour tour of Walt Disney Studios in 1938, giving her a behind-the-scenes look at Fantasia. But hey, let’s give Uncle Walt the benefit of the doubt here. I’m sure he was a swell guy – I mean, Tom “Everyman” Hanks is playing him!

Whitewash notwithstanding, Saving Mr. Banks is the kind of Sappy Tacky Sentimental Pap you would expect to see on The Hallmark Channel – a family friendly, by-the-numbers “inspirational drama” that has little drama and even less inspiration.

As for Emma Thompson, her leading performance is the film’s only saving grace – and as impressive as it is, there isn’t a single surprising note in it. Thompson already made a Mary Poppins film – two, actually – with Nanny McPhee and Nanny McPhee Returns. Of course we all remember where we were when those seminal films were released, so I won’t bore you with obvious comparisons.

There are, however, some solid supporting turns by Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak who play the Sherman Brothers, the songwriting duo responsible for Mary Poppins‘ Oscar-winning “Chim Chim Cher-ee.” Paul Giamatti, of all people, also appears as Thompson’s always-sunny chauffeur, a character that is so over-the-top cheerful and optimistic he could only exist in a Walt Disney film.

A mash-up of Stranger than Fiction and Finding Neverland, Hancock’s Mary Poppins origin story is your standard “My Dear Ol’ Dad Drank Himself to Death” tale with a Disney twist – it’s like Bambi, just replace Bambi’s mother with an alcoholic Colin Farrell, or something.

You’ll have to swallow more than a spoonful of sugar to keep this emotionally manipulative piece of Oscar bait down. Saving Mr. Banks is this year’s The Blind Side – and I mean that in the worst way possible.

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  • Eric Fisher

    Stop holding back – how do you really feel? BBC Productions could have tried doing this without Disney’s permission – good luck with that.Disney could have bought the project and squashed it or thrown into turnaround (another squash) but they chose to make it – and appear to have allowed Walt to appear a little edgier than he did on ABC and NBC. Good for them. This is a fun story that will invite those who wish to investigate to do so. Walt was like Ogres – and the rest of us: He had layers. He could be his image – and be your Dark Prince, as well. And he smoked. I’m surprised you missed mentioning that.

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