Friday, December 13, 2013

Movie with Abe: Saving Mr. Banks

Saving Mr. Banks
Directed by John Lee Hancock
Released December 13, 2013

Movies about making movies are common in Hollywood. It’s fun to look back at an established classic and learn the story behind its genesis and its production, especially if well-known current actors are portraying well-known players from the film’s era. The making of “Mary Poppins” seems like a rich topic for a film, particularly one from Walt Disney Pictures itself. This mildly entertaining movie is a hybrid of melodrama and comedy that has its moments but ultimately is far less serious and compelling than it should be considering the actors involved and its premise.

Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks are two actors who took home Oscars in the 1990s and have been working steadily since, fluctuating between blockbuster roles that use them to less productive effect and more challenging roles that earn them critical praise, such as “Love Actually” and “Road to Perdition,” respectively. This year, Hanks handed in a terrific performance in “Captain Phillips,” demonstrating that he’s still doing great work. Here, he has the dream role for one of the nicest guys in Hollywood, playing Walt Disney to Thompson’s crotchety “Mary Poppins” author who can’t seem to get behind any idea that Disney’s creative team comes up with to adapt her beloved character to the big screen.

Thompson stars as Mrs. P.L. Travers, who arrives from England to California in 1961 after years of being nagged by Disney for the opportunity to make a movie out of her beloved book. Her attitude about the visit is entirely negative, and with every new person she meets and every new idea they have about how to put Mary Poppins on screen, she’s more than ready to burst someone’s bubble and express just how little she is amused by what they think. Disney, on the other hand, is just as determined to get the film made as Travers is to make sure that never happens.

Thompson and Hanks are both skilled, but these are far from the best performances they’ve given. Thompson gets the chance to be prickly and uniformly one-note, which is somewhat fun, but hardly worthy of the awards attention she’s been attracting. The same goes for Hanks, who makes an entertaining Walt Disney but doesn’t bring anything spectacular to the role. The film follows suit, telling a mildly enjoyable story of the hurdles to cross to make the film in the 1960s while Travers’ childhood story in Australia is revealed simultaneously. The two don’t jive together too well, and while the film has its moments, including ending on a positive, moving note, it’s no “Mary Poppins.”


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