Saving Mr. Banks has to be the first film about a specific studio, that was made by its own studio. The film stars Emma Thompson as author PL Travers and Tom Hanks as Walt Disney, and it depicts the struggle between the two personalities as the film version of Mary Poppins is made. Saving Mr. Banks has gone through a lot over the years, and even made the annual Blacklist, which lists the best film scripts not yet produced. It eventually got picked up by Disney, and was set for a prime Oscar season release. Before watching this film, I thought that it could really go two ways. I thought that it could be a really good film with compelling performances, or that it would be a schmaltzy Disney propaganda piece (which I wouldn't have minded). It ends up falling somewhere in the middle. Saving Mr. Banks is a half decent film that never really compelled me all that much. It has some good performances, but it ends up being another relatively standard period piece thanks to a story that you don't care all that much about.
Saving Mr. Banks is the story of author PL Travers (Emma Thompson), despite what the marketing may lead you to believe. Travers wrote the Mary Poppins series, and for years Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) begs her to let him have the rights. Travers eventually yields to Disney's requests and goes to Los Angeles to discuss the film. Travers is appalled by Disney's treatment of her characters, and treats the entire Disney team including famed songwriters Richard and Robert Sherman (Jason Schwartzman and BJ Novak) like garbage. Eventually, we get better insight into Travers' behavior through flashbacks that show her tumultuous childhood and explain why the Mary Poppins characters are so important to her.
Saving Mr. Banks is a light film in that it is easily consumed and features almost no content that will offend anyone. There is some dark stuff, but I still feel that Saving Mr. Banks is one of the lighter films that has been released this Oscar season. For those reasons, I would say that Saving Mr. Banks is prime viewing for families this holiday season who have already had their fill of Frozen. However, for anyone else, there are better films out there. This is a mildly enjoyable film that never engaged me. I was compelled by Travers' story at times, and felt that the emotion was there towards the end, but I was never overly impressed throughout the rest of the runtime. I really don't have anything bad to say about this film, it's just a decent film.
Saving Mr. Banks has some really good performances. Emma Thompson is really good as Travers, and delivers a powerhouse of a final scene. Yet I never really thought that it was Thompson who involved me emotionally in the character. The flashback scenes make you understand her character better, and you might be emotionally engaged with her at the end, but other than that, I'm not sure that you'll really like or care about Travers. Hanks is good as Disney, but he's not spectacular. I thought that his performance in the fantastic Captain Phillips was better. My favorite performance probably came from Jason Schwartzman. He brings a warm, friendly presence to the film. Paul Giamatti is also very good as Travers' chauffeur.
The whole behind-the-scenes aspect of Saving Mr. Banks never really compelled me. I typically love films that go behind the scenes of Hollywood films, but this one just wasn't that interesting. There are a couple of magical scenes, but the film doesn't focus on them all that much. There's more emphasis on the flashback scenes, which develop the character of Travers, but they go on for too much of the runtime.
This is a difficult review for me to write. There really isn't much that's bad about this film. I can completely understand if someone wanted to give this film an A+, say that they loved it, and move on. So why am I going to give a lukewarm grade to a film that made very few mistakes? Maybe it's because there isn't a whole ton to like about this film as well. There's a little bit of emotional involvement, some nice nostalgic moments, and a couple of good performances. Nothing I can't find in a better movie this year.
Saving Mr. Banks is a schmaltzy holiday movie. It's perfectly safe, makes very few mistakes, and yet isn't all that likable. I was never truly interested in what was going on. I was entertained, but not much more than that. This is an Oscar bait film, and it really is not ashamed to say so. It has everything that Academy members love and takes absolutely no risks. There are a couple of great scenes towards the end, and some interesting character dynamics, but this is a rather safe film in the end.
Overall, I liked Saving Mr. Banks. Just not that much. It's a nice little holiday diversion, and nothing more. Travers is interesting, but also a mean person, and the film never really does explain that. I think that a lot of people will like Mr. Banks, but I can't say that it's anything daring, new or interesting. I'm not saying that everything has to be new and fresh, but Saving Mr. Banks just feels too safe. It's simply a decent film that never strives for great.
THE FINAL GRADE: B- (6.7/10)