In Steven Spielberg’s underrated sci-fi stormer Minority Report, ads, which are now monstrously overbearing bright and jumpy moving images that are on everything from cereal boxes to the walls of hallways and corridors, scan your eyes, figure out your identity, and make a personalized advertisement aimed to give a “just for you” feeling to ensnare the unsuspecting customer into purchasing the product. 40 years earlier than the setting of Report we already have Google Ads, collecting data on your search history and hitting you with ads for items you’re more likely to purchase (much to the annoyance of anyone who remembers Youtube before the intrusive ads before almost every video). I had Minority Report on my mind every second of Saving Mr. Banks, the new Disney Film that dramatizes the making of the classic Mary Poppins. It plays like puffed up propaganda that hits you with every sentimentalized schmaltzy tool the filmmakers could think of, hoping it’ll hit some personalized memory of Poppins to hit as wide a demographic as possible. Honestly, it sorta works, but even so, it seems as though Saving Mr. Banks should have a label under the poster that reads “artificial flavoring” to caution viewers away from ingesting unhealthy additives.
Much debate has been made over the fictional accuracy of the Saving Mr. Banks tale,which dramatizes Walt Disney bringing the famous P.L. Travers book Mary Poppins to the silver screen. To tell the story, the push to adapt Poppins is intersected with a set of flashbacks from Travers’ childhood, designed to inform the genesis of the famous character. Tom Hanks perfectly personifies what we perceive as Walt Disney’s main trait: a joyous child like whimsy that fuels all his entire persona. Good as he is, he’s better in Captain Philips, which is just as well since this film is entirely Emma Thompson’s, playing P.L. Travers. Famously, she resisted Disney’s attempts to buy the property, however she insisted upon obtrusive creative control, even insisting the color red not appear anywhere in the film. Her stubborn and interfering nature is overplayed to an exaggerated level, just as Disney is as much of a cartoon as Mickey Mouse. But, for all bickering over the story’s faithfulness, It doesn’t much matter-- Hollywood stories are ruthlessly dishonest all the time. Instead, what deserves to be ridiculed is the film’s absurd pandering to dangerous thematic content.
The main is issue is represented by an early scene in the film, when P.L. Travers enters her hotel room, and to her horror, finds it has been struck by a tornado. One full of Disney Paraphernalia that had subsequently puked out every Mickey and Minnie from Southern California onto every couch and every chippendale. The room is so suffocated with Disney “stuff” that it sucks away the purpose of the furniture, leaving hardly a spot to sit, kick up your feet, or to lay down.This is an adequate metaphor for Saving Mr. Banks as a whole, which is so one minded that any chance of innovation is denied lest the script wander too far from barfing yet another reminder that Disney rules. No matter how stirring and effective the film sometimes is, it’s never long before feeling like it’s no more than a particularly well done commercial, manipulating your emotions until you’re happily opening your checkbook. Luckily, so much of Disney is indeed so delightful that the film’s never difficult to enjoy, even if its artifice is always evident.
There’s also less obvious but still hugely problematic part of the screenplay-- the main theme of the movie seems to dismiss reality and embrace fantasy. It’s a troubling idea meant to be charming, repeated often by the horribly miscast Colin Farral as the failing but wide-eyed father to P.L. Travers. The flashbacks in general don’t work, and usually interrupt the present drama in effort to make Freudian connections between her troubled childhood and abrasive personality as an adult woman. There’s one beautiful exception some way into the film, which cross-cuts between reciting lines from the book and her father reading them in a drunken speech decades before. It’s a deservingly powerful sequence, and had the film maintained that level of ingenuity and dramatic weight throughout, it would have been a fine film. But it isn’t.