Saving Mr. Banks Has Few Saving Graces

Courtesy: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

Courtesy: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

Walt Disney Studios’ recently released full length picture Saving Mr. Banks is not the worst movie that the studio has ever released. It is also, hardly the best movie that WDS has ever released. The story presented in this movie is little more than another period piece that can be tossed into the ever-growing pile of movies that are “based on actual events” and forgotten over time. It tries to make up for this by throwing in an attempt at a serious story about Travers’ attempt to reconcile her past and present that ultimately falls flat. That is thanks in large part to the glut of flashbacks and the unevenness of those transitions between the flashbacks. For all of the negatives that weigh down the story, there is at least one positive to the whole presentation. That bright shining light is the acting on the part of the movie’s largely A-List cast. Other than that sole beacon, it’s difficult to ultimately say that there is anything that truly “saves” Saving Mr. Banks.

Saving Mr. Banks is anything but one of the best movies that Walt Disney Studios has ever released. There is very little that one can argue actually “saves” this period piece. That’s because ultimately, it’s just one more movie that is “based on actual events.” Co-writers Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith seemed to have gotten down Travers’ persona. And veteran actress Emma Thompson brought Travers even more to life with her expert depiction of the famed author. However, one cannot deny the fact that Disney likely took a certain amount of liberties with the story of how Travers’ beloved book Mary Poppins came to life. That is just the way of movies that are “based on actual events.” Marcel and Smith had to have known that there are those—like this critic—that would know this, too. So their answer to that was to throw in a personal drama story on the part of Travers that sees her trying to reconcile her troubled childhood as she worked with Walt Disney and his people on their adaptation of her book. It’s a bit much. Add in the glut of flashbacks and the unevenness of said flashbacks, and audiences get what is one more loose brick in this movie.

The attempt on the part of Marcel and Smith to craft a dual-pronged story in Saving Mr. Banks is a major part of the movie’s downfall. It isn’t the end of the movie’s problems, either. The glut of flashbacks that Marcel and Smith toss into the story and their unevenness hurts the script even more. One doesn’t even fully realize that the pair is using flashbacks as part of the story until after about the fifth time that the transition happens. The primary reason for this is that there is little to indicate the separation of the scenes. The story constantly jumps from Travers’ present day life to her childhood growing up in Australia. And because there is no clear indicator of the jump back and forth in time, audiences are left scratching their heads at who the little girl is until again, after about the fifth or sixth time that the transition happens. There is perhaps one clear transition that finally makes it clear for audiences that they are looking into what is supposed to be Travers’ childhood. While Marcel and Smith do finally make it clear what audiences are seeing in the scene transitions, things don’t get much better. That’s because it actually starts to feel like the flashbacks in question tend to happen at an increasing pace. Even in that increased frequency of flashbacks, the transitions between past and present are still not entirely clear. They just seem to happen at random points without any clear separation. It only serves to hurt the movie even more. Thankfully for all of the problems with Saving Mr. Banks, it does have one saving grace. That saving grace is the acting on the part of the movie’s largely A-List cast.

If not for the acting on the part of Saving Mr. Banks’ cast, this movie would possibly be classified as one of the least of Disney’s movies in recent years. That being the case, Casting Director Ronna Kress deserves a standing ovation. Kress pulled in some of the biggest names in Hollywood for this movie. Actress Emma Thompson (Stranger Than Fiction, Nanny McPhee, Nanny McPhee Returns) was an obvious choice considering her time in the role of another literary nanny named Nanny McPhee. McPhee’s character was based on the literary Nurse Matilda. Nurse Matilda’s books came years after Mary Poppins was published. But her stories are arguably far more enjoyable than that of Mary Poppins or even this semi-historical look at how the book was adapted to the big screen. Ironically enough, Thompson’s depiction of author P.L. Travers was just as spot on as that of Nanny McPhee. One can’t help but laugh at the obvious cultural differences between herself and her American hosts. And while he is in a supporting role in this movie, fellow veteran actor Paul Giamatti (The Illusionist, The Amazing Spiderman 2, Duets) is incredible as Travers’ personal driver Ralph. Ralph’s innocence makes him such a lovable character. Jason Scwartzman (Moonrise Kingdom, The Darjeerling Limited, Rushmore) and B.J. Novak (The Amazing Spiderman 2, Inglourious Basterds, The Smurfs 2) are just as entertaining as the famed Sherman Brothers. Anyone that knows the history of Walt Disney Studios knows that the Sherman Brothers are responsible for some of the greatest musical numbers to ever grace the big screen in Disney’s golden age. And their drive to get the songs right despite Travers’ constant refusal makes them such sympathetic characters. Not once did they ever get mad at her for her stubbornness. And their playful nature in playing their songs makes them even more lovable. Tom Hanks can’t be ignored here either, as the one and only Walt Disney. Those in the makeup department got the look of Walt Disney pretty close with Hanks. And one must agree that he expertly channels Disney, too. He worked so hard to get the part down that he even tried to get down Walt Disney’s accent for the role. It’s subtle. But it’s there. And it makes his depiction all the more enjoyable to watch. It’s one more piece of the whole of this movie that makes Saving Mr. Banks at least somewhat bearable.

The acting on the part of Saving Mr. Banks’ cast is the one shining light that makes this movie bearable. The sad reality of this movie is that despite the entertaining portrayals on the part of the cast, there is little to nothing else positive that can be noted of the film. The transitions between Travers’ childhood and adult life are far too many and nowhere near clear enough. And the dual-pronged story crafted by co-writers Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith ultimately combines with those scene transition issues to make Saving Mr. Banks anything but memorable. Sadly these issues together prove that other than the cast’s acting, there is little to anything else that “saves” Saving Mr. Banks.

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Cloudy 2 Is A Rare Ray Of Light Among 2013′s Sea Of Sequels

Courtesy:  Sony Pictures Animation

Courtesy: Sony Pictures Animation

Everyone knows the old adage that a movie’s sequel is never as good as the original. Everyone also knows the old adage that one should never say never. That’s because there are exceptions to the rule. Sony Pictures’ Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs 2 is one of those exceptions to the rule. While it might not have been a necessary sequel, it is still a fun movie for the whole family. The movie picks up right where its forerunner left off, even going so far as to highlight the events of that movie in the outset of this story. The writing team of Phil Lord, Chris Miller and Erica Rivinoja are to be applauded for this. It’s not all for which they are worthy of applause, either. The trio has crafted in this story that while predictable, also has its own share of heart and humor.  The mediations on friendship and environmentalism make the story even more entertaining.  For all the work put in by the script’s writing team, viewers can’t ignore the work put into bringing the “Lost World” style environment to life.  This element makes the movie even richer.  It is especially the case for those with an interest in computer graphics. When they take all of this into consideration, audiences of all ages will find that Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs 2 is one of the surprisingly rare worthwhile sequels churned out by Hollywood’s major studios in 2013.

Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs 2 seems on the surface to be an unnecessary and even unbelievable story. Much like its precursor, this movie has no link whatsoever to the book on which it was lifted. Rather, it is more akin to Jurassic Park than the book on which it is based. But once audiences allow themselves to get past this factor, they will find that it has real entertainment value.  The script picks up right where the previous movie left off. It even catches up audiences that have yet to have seen said movie.  This isn’t something that’s commonly seen among the masses of sequels that currently jam theaters.  To that extent, the story’s writers deserve a certain amount of credit.  They are also deserving of credit for the fact that despite their script being predictable, it also bears its own share of heart and humor.  The central message in this script is one of friendship and its importance.  Lord and company make the statement that friends are some of the most important people that anyone can have.  This couldn’t be truer.  Any parent will appreciate that this message was included in the script.

The message of friendship made for plenty of heart throughout the roughly ninety-five minute run time of Cloudy 2.  That heart is something that viewers of any age will appreciate.  It’s just part of the whole presentation, though.  There is just as much of a comic element to the movie as there is heart.  The comedy comes in the form of countless pop culture references and jokes.  Younger audiences won’t catch all of the jokes included in the script.  But parents definitely will.  And they will be surprised to find themselves laughing at those jokes.  One could go so far as to argue that the “Live” company and its founder are a spoof of Apple.  That argument could be made considering Apple’s reputation.  Set against the “Live” Company and its loyal legions, the similarities are too obvious to ignore.  Regardless of whether or not a given viewer is an Apple loyalist, any viewer that recognizes this similarity will appreciate the jab at the company.

The mix of heart and humor does so much to make Cloudy 2 fun for the entire family.  There is one more aspect of the movie that as subtle as it is, is just as important to note in its success.  That aspect is the movie’s Jurassic Park style world.  The world crafted by those behind the movie is absolutely stunning.  Yes, the movie as a whole is just another crafted via CG rather than by hand.  This critic will never dismiss that argument.  However, one can’t ignore the detail and depth given to Swallow Falls.  The world crafted for this movie is so lush and rich in color and style.  It actually stands out in its own way against so many other CG features.  This is exemplified by all of the jungle scenes and the inner workings of the Big Rock Candy Mountain.  Yes, Lord and his co-writers went there.  That’s just one of so many of the pop culture references that only parents will get and appreciate.  The colors and detail of the rock candy crystals and walls inside the mountain were so precise and bright.  The same can be said of the onion/brontosaurs type creatures.  It’s obvious in their case that their scenes were modeled precisely after the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park.  They moved and acted just like the dinosaurs in question.  There is so much more that could be noted.  But it would be a disservice to audiences to ramble on about all of it here.  Audiences will appreciate what they find when they check out this rare worthwhile sequel for themselves.  It is in theaters now.  More information on Cloudy 2 and other Sony Pictures releases is available online at http://www.facebook.com/SonyPictures, http://www.facebook.com/SONYPicturesAnimation, http://www.sonypictures.com, http://www.sonypicturesanimation.com, http://twitter.com/#!/sonyanimation, and http://twitter.com/sonypictures.

To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.