Monday, December 30, 2013

Saving Mr. Banks – Early Thoughts



Well this was something new for Disney.  A biography film that involves its founder and the woman he fought with for twenty years to get a film made of her book.


Despite the iffy premise I found I really liked this film.  I thought the actors did a marvellous job here.  Emma Thompson plays a great Travers.  She captured this stubborn crisp lady while not making her totally unlikable.  Ralph and the Sherman brothers are great.  The only portrayal I didn’t care for was Bradley Whitford as Don DaGradi.  Not because the acting was bad I just didn’t think he looked anything like Don DaGradi and that’s probably because in all the pictures I’ve seen of him DaGradi isn’t wearing his glasses.  I wasn’t sold on Tom Hanks as Walt Disney either initially, but I do think he captured him really well even if I still don’t think he looks the part.  In fact the two instances that bothered me were Travers watching Walt on the TV and looking at the photo of him on the train.  I know it was supposed to keep us engaged in the world they were creating by having everything match up, but honestly it threw me right out of the film.  All I could think was his facial shape isn’t right he is not Walt.  Still I do appreciate the great effort Tom Hanks made in working for this role.  According to imdb Hanks was the one to fight to get a shot of Walt smoking in film and I’m glad we at least got the compromise of him stubbing out the cigarette and Walt coughing on the phone as a reminder that smoking was taking a great toll on his health at this time.  I think it is great that that was included because it keeps Walt human.  The man was a genius no question, but he still had quirks and faults and I love when biopics acknowledge that.

I love the music here and the look of the film is quite good, they matched a lot of the 60s and the early 1900s really well.  The only problem I have is that the film has this overly bright plastic look in some areas.  Probably because of whatever filter they’re using to create an old Technicolor look.  Now for the flashbacks this works great I think because we’re looking back at childhood and since lots of shots are outdoors it makes sense that they are very bright.  It works for the scene in Disneyland too because that place is clean and pristine and meant to be so.  The problem for me comes with all the scenes in the rehearsal room and Walt’s office.  I think it’s because when I’ve looked at pictures of the old Disney studio there were always storyboards all over the walls and the tables covered in drawings and papers.  In this film the rehearsal room has three boards on wheels, one table, and a piano and that’s about it.  It’s sparse and the filter makes the room too clean and bright and it just screams this is a set!  It’s all made up!  No one actually works here!

The story told here was still effective though even if some details were less than accurate.  The working relationship is probably a good representation of what actually went on because as the ending credits showed those sessions were taped, and Richard Sherman is still around as a consultant and Robert Sherman too depending on how far back pre-production was.  The flashbacks though no doubt were embellished and I question whether the character of Ralph, even though he was great fun to watch, was a real person.  Also I know that Walt did indeed travel to London but that was long before any pre-production on the film began, not afterwards to confront Travers.  However, I think showing the father daughter relationship and its deterioration because of his drinking was great, and the conversation Walt has with Travers in London ties into that perfectly.  Every character I felt was sympathetic.  There were a lot of funny moments like Travers stuffing all the Disney merchandise into the hotel closet only to find the Mickey plush on the bed.  Also the Mickey head built out of Jello.  The scene of them dancing to ‘Let’s Go Fly a Kite’ was really touching, and the end where Travers literally watches Mr. Banks being saved over the course of Mary Poppins was wonderful.  The end credits were also great where they had the original pictures of the premiere, and behind the scenes photos of all the principal production people who worked on Mary Poppins.     

Honestly I thought the film had great acting, good humour, and had a well-paced and touching story that I think shows that people working on this production really did want to do right by the actual people they are portraying here.  So I would recommend going to see it, so long as you still take that based on a true story line with a grain of salt.

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