VOD film review: Saving Mr. Banks
LET'S GO FLY A KITE10
James R | On 24, Mar 2014
Director: John Lee Hancock
Cast: Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Bradley Whitford, Jason Schwartzman, B.J. Novak, Ruth Wilson, Paul Giamatti, Colin Farrell, Annie Rose Buckley
Watch Saving Mr Banks online in the UK: BBC iPlayer / Disney+ / TalkTalk TV / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Google Play / Sky Store
Winds from the east. Mist coming in. Like something’s a brewing, about to begin…
That’s how Saving Mr. Banks starts: with author Mrs. P.L. Travers (Thompson) blowing into Walt Disney studios, a gust of ill will, to rescue her novel from the clutches of the man himself (Hanks). He calls her Pam with a smile that could melt polar ice caps. She insists on “Mrs. Travers” with a grimace that thinks of all the polar bears his smile just doomed. A story about the making of a classic movie featuring an odd couple relationship? Even if you can’t put your finger on what lies in store, you feel what’s to happen in Saving Mr. Banks has all happened before.
But John Lee Hancock’s drama has a merry tune to toot, one that wins you over, animated penguins, tuppence and all. The obvious notes are struck straight away, as Pam pours her bile all over American hospitality; the perfect contrast to smiling chauffeur Ralph (the happiest role of Paul Giamatti’s career), who realises that in every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. Luckily, Saving Mr. Banks finds that fun quickly too. And snap! That’s Emma Thompson’s game. She is hilarious as the no-nonsense lady, who tuts, sighs and bites everyone’s cheerful heads off, saying everything so loud she always sounds precocious.
“Constables! Responstables!” cries writer Don DaGradi (Whitford) as he performs their opening number. “That’s not a word,” interrupts Mrs. Travers. “We made it up,” comes the reply. She looks matter-of-factly at them. “Then un-make it up.”
Tom Hanks, meanwhile, is all charm as Mr. Mickey Mouse. He swans about with all the arrogance of a man who, everywhere he went, was used to people saying: “There goes a clever gent!”
Hancock cuts this silliness with a more serious story: that of young Ginty (Buckley) and her playful dad (a fab Colin Farrell – doing his best impression of Johnny Depp in Finding Neverland). The director um diddle diddles between the two, with Thomas Newman’s score linking the flashbacks with a delicate echo of Chim Chim Cher-ee and Feed The Birds.
Back in the 60s, we hear those tunes freshly composed at the piano by Dick and Bob Sherman. The charismatic and talented Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak are unrecognisable as the brothers, singing the familiar repertoire with toe-tapping enthusiasm. When they and Bradley Whitford are on screen, this film is a lark, a spree – and very clear to see that all involved are enjoying themselves. You almost wish the film was just about them.
That same earnestness is evident throughout; the natural young Annie Rose Buckley tugs at the heart strings as Hancock draws parallels between the Australian family and The Banks, introducing an emotional depth that resonates through Disney’s classic. The recent 50th anniversary release of Mary Poppins on Blu-ray suggests that Disney views Saving Mr. Banks as a safe investment. But while the sound of a cash-grab is something quite atrocious, Saving Mr. Banks is simply too sweet to seem like anything more sinister. It’s not just a spoonful of sugar you’re being served: it’s a truckload.
Darker rumours are avoided to keep Walt looking wonderful, but Thompson’s winning performance ensures the creative conflicts on the production aren’t airbrushed over by the studio-endorsed script. Her laugh-out-loud one-liners even stop the omnipresent merchandise from feeling like product placement. If there is commerce in the film’s formula, the vat of syrup certainly helps the medicine go down – and in a most delightful way. By the end of it, that feel-good Disney music and humour is so enjoyable that by the end you’ll be rushing out to go and fly a kite yourself.
You could almost say Saving Mr. Banks is supercali… well, you get the idea.
Saving Mr Banks is available on Disney+ UK, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription or a £79.99 yearly subscription. It is also available on BBC iPlayer until 17th August 2020