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Saving Mr. Banks (Blu-ray Review)

6 Mar, 2014 By: John Latchem

Street 3/18/14
Box Office $83.11 million
$29.99 DVD, $36.99 Blu-ray
Rated ‘PG-13’ for thematic elements including some unsettling images.
Stars Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Paul Giamatti, Jason Schwartzman, Bradley Whitford, Colin Farrell, Ruth Wilson, Rachel Griffiths.

The widely considered status of Mary Poppins as a classic film belies that fact that it’s something of a miracle it was ever made. It wasn’t due to any particular production problems, as Walt Disney had a firm grasp of the technical innovations needed to bring the film to life. Rather, it had more to do with obtaining the rights to adapt the “Mary Poppins” books, and the steadfast refusal of their cranky author, P.L. Travers, to relinquish them.

Saving Mr. Banks recounts a few weeks in 1961 when Travers (Emma Thompson) was entranced just enough by the Disney magic to let Walt (Tom Hanks) make the movie.

Director John Lee Hancock’s film makes the case that the key stumbling block was psychological, and that Travers was too deeply connected to her stories as a way to cope with a rough childhood in Australia in which her father (Colin Farrell) died at a young age. As such, the film cuts to scenes of Travers’ childhood to demonstrate how it came to influence her creation of the magical nanny and, ultimately, the shaping of Disney’s film.

At its heart, Saving Mr. Banks is a story of the clash between artistic integrity and entertainment as a business, with Walt Disney serving as something of a bridge between the two. Once a young artist fervently determined to protect Mickey Mouse as his personal creation, Walt now finds himself at the opposite end, trying to convince an artist that he won’t bastardize her creation in the service of making a buck, but is instead just as much as a storyteller as she, capable of exposing her dream to an even bigger audience.

Even so, the movie relies heavily on nostalgia for the Mary Poppins film, and as such anyone who isn’t already a Disney fan won't be naturally drawn to it. For those who are, however, Saving Mr. Banks is a sweet and charming depiction of the making of a classic.

The self-reverential tone of the film is evident throughout the Blu-ray’s primary bonus feature, a 15-minute tour of the Walt Disney Studio with Hancock, featuring interviews with many offspring of people who worked with Walt. Hancock also elicits the reflections of Richard M. Sherman, one of the original Mary Poppins songwriters and a musical consultant on Saving Mr. Banks, which really hammers home how historic that studio is.  Imagine sitting in your office when Sherman walks in with a camera crew and reveals how most of the songs from Mary Poppins were written in that room. That’s pretty much what happens to a young lady here, though the featurette doesn’t devote much time to gauging her reaction beyond a few adoring glances of poignant recognition.

The Blu-ray also includes three short deleted scenes and a clip of the cast and crew singing “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” on set with Sherman on his last day working with the production.

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