Thursday, December 19, 2013
Review: Saving Mr. Banks
Of course, maybe the story couldn't have been told without Disney's involvement, so it makes sense that they be the studio responsible for bringing the movie to the screen. Saving Mr. Banks is full of images and music from Disney's 1964 adaptation of Mary Poppins (a movie still unseen by me). As a statement on how commercial entertainment is collaborated upon and created, the movie is ok. As a statement about the nature of art, it's a bunch of horseshit -- a sales pitch from Disney that sells out Travers while it tells us she was right to sell out.
But, hey, Mary Poppins remains a beloved classic. Maybe they were on to something.
Saving Mr. Banks is being released at the same time as Inside Llewyn Davis, the newest great movie from the Coen Brothers. The two films would actually make a great double feature if only for how they address artistic integrity. Llewyn Davis is a proud, stubborn artist whose pride and stubbornness stands in the way of his own success. Saving Mr. Banks' answer is to just sell out -- spend a career releasing "Please Mr. Kennedy" (the novelty song to which Davis contributes in one of the best scenes in the movie) not just because it's what would be best for Davis, but because it's what would be best for ALL of us.
My understanding is that Travers was not a fan of the film, and wouldn't let Disney nor the Sherman Brothers nor ANY American near the eventual stage musical that was produced in the '90s (she even wrote it into her will). And there are hints of that in Mr. Banks; not to spoil anything, but eventually they do make a movie of Mary Poppins and she attends the premiere. We get a few shots of her cringing at the things she does not like. By the end, however, Travers has given herself over to movie magic, openly weeping in her seat. There is something very insidious about the movie's messages. I know we're supposed to be overjoyed when we watch Travers finally succumb to the joys of the Sherman Brothers' score and begin to dance around the room to "Let's Go Fly a Kite," but it's all kind of gross. Travers was a pain in the ass, Mr. Banks seems to argue, and just needed to lighten up and get out of the way so Disney could take over.
What does the movie no favors is the direction of John Lee Hancock, who never met an emotion he didn't want to slather in syrupy music and milk for every manipulative moment. Hancock, who is probably best known for the execrable The Blind Side, is exactly the guy for the job -- he's a company man with no identifiable integrity as a filmmaker, making him the perfect counterpoint to this representation of P.L. Travers.
I'm not buying.