A thick air of sentimentality, overly tidy storytelling and frustratingly sunny revisionism hangs heavy over director John Lee Hancock’s Saving Mr. Banks, which never quite feels like the truest of true tales. And yet the sweet aroma of prickly playfulness and irresistible likeability make it a positively pleasant film.
Determined to fulfil a twenty-year-old promise made to his daughters when they were children, innovative filmmaker Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) works to develop a film adaptation of “Mary Poppins,” author P.L. Travers’ (Emma Thompson) beloved book. There’s just one problem: she refuses to relinquish the rights to her series.
As an exploration of the “making of” process associated with Mary Poppins, Saving Mr. Banks offers engaging material, but the film gains emotional heft through a series of flashbacks that unveil why the characters in Mary Poppins possessed great meaning for the author of the series. Moving back and forth between 1906 Australia and 1961 Los Angeles, the film provides a full portrait of the author, who is played as a child by Annie Rose Buckley and as a sixty-something woman by Emma Thompson. The movie’s other standout performance is Tom Hanks, whose interpretation of Walt Disney is said by those who knew the late Hollywood heavyweight to be spot-on, even down to his little mannerisms.
Solid acting is one reason why Saving Mr. Banks works as effectively as it does. The cast is top-heavy with past Oscar nominees and winners. Hanks and Thompson’s credentials are obvious, but supporting players Paul Giamatti and Rachel Griffiths also have nominations on their records. As good as Hanks and Thompson are (and they’re both excellent), the strength of the secondary performers is a quality that elevates Saving Mr. Banks above the level of a by-the-numbers “based on a true story” tale.
Saving Mr. Banks features a handsome video presentation free from any serious issue or blemish. The film’s sun-cast 1960s California palette is awash with golden hues, striking sepia-kissed colours, nicely saturated skin-tones, deep blacks and unexpectedly strong primaries. Artifacting, banding, aliasing and other encoding anomalies are absent as well, although a small amount of crush creeps in when the lights go down, night falls or Hollywood premieres begin. All told, Saving Mr. Banks looks every bit as good as it’s meant to.
Disney’s DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track exercises restraint and humility, although rarely at the expense of the experience. Dialogue is intelligible, nicely grounded and smartly prioritized, without exception. This may not be the type of film that you will use to gain the full potential of your surround system but that doesn’t mean you wouldn’t want the full audio HD experience either!
From Poppins to the Present: Hancock hosts this trip back and forth through time, touching on the early diversification of Disney’s projects and brand, the look of the film, the development and production of Mary Poppins, and the Disney Animation Studios, past and present.
Let’s Go Fly a Kite: This brief follow-up finds Mary Poppins co-songwriter Richard Sherman leading a round of “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” with the Saving Mr. Banks cast and crew on the last day of filming.
Deleted Scenes: Three deleted scenes from the film are included.
Trailers & Sneak Peeks: Maleficent, Sleeping Beauty and Mary Poppins.
Unsurprisingly, this is not necessarily a film that kids will enjoy. The presentation is far more mature and will adequately entertain those who have grown up with Mary Poppins over the decades.
The Bottom Line
Saving Mr. Banks takes full advantage of high-def on this blu-ray release, even if it’s not the type of film you would be going out of your way to get on blu-ray. It’s a highly enjoyable film and is definitely worth the addition to your home collection.