Biopic Blu-ray Review

Tuppence a Blu-ray Review: Saving Mr. Banks

March 28, 2014Ben MK

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Paging Mr. Hanks

By Ben Mk

Most people are probably familiar with Mary Poppins, the film — but many may not realize that Walt Disney himself spent some twenty years trying to secure the motion picture rights to the original book from its author, Pamela Lyndon (P.L.) Travers. And it's the end of this tumultuous journey that's dramatized in director John Lee Hancock's Saving Mr. Banks — with Emma Thompson playing the no-nonsense author and Tom Hanks as the affable Walt Disney, who's adamant about keeping a promise to his daughters, by bringing their favorite book to the big screen.

But despite Disney's best efforts, Pamela has deeply ingrained perceptions of his company, and she doesn't want to compromise the integrity of her work by "Disney-fying" it. It's not until 1961, in light of the dwindling popularity of her book, and with the promise of final script approval offered to her, that she finally agrees to make the long trek to Hollywood. Once there, she's greeted by her new driver, Ralph (Paul Giamatti), who takes her to meet with screenwriter Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford) and songwriters the Sherman Brothers (Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak). But although it may seem like the end of a long journey, little do any of them realize that the real work is just beginning.

The film is really two stories in one — there's the tale of Disney and company trying to hammer out a mutually agreeable film adaptation; but there's also the backstory of a young P.L. Travers, when she went by the name of Helen Goff (played by newcomer, Lily Bigham). Young Helen's tale begins in 1906 Australia, as she, her mother, Margaret (Ruth Wilson), father, Travers (Colin Farrell), and two siblings move from their home in Maryborough to a small farmhouse in the idyllic town of Allora. But the peaceful, new setting belies the truth of the family's situation. Plagued by the bottle, Helen's father is always struggling to hold down a job; it's a harsh reality that Helen soon comes to realize — and one that forces her to grow out of her childish ways.

The intersection of these two storylines is what gives the film its heart, for you can't have one without the other. Pamela's story brings closure to the tale of young Helen; and in turn, Helen's story brings some humanity to Pamela as a character. Likewise, Hanks brings a very down-to-earth quality to his portrayal of Disney, looking mostly the part and not letting his performance veer into caricature. For the most part, Giamatti, Whitford, Schwartzman and Novak are there to play it for laughs — by being constantly befuddled at Pamela's incessant stubbornness — but that's not to say there isn't plenty of heart in their performances as well. The film is not anything if not character-driven, and it owes a lot to the strength of its cast.

Saving Mr. Banks arrives on Blu-ray with an eye-pleasing transfer that nicely highlights the fine nuances of the warm and inviting picture, lensed by cinematographer John Schwartzman. Whether it's the cherry blossoms outside Pamela's London flat, the blades of golden grass surrounding the Goff farmhouse in Allora, or the lush, green grass on the Disney Studios lot, image quality is uniformly sharp and vibrant colors persist all the way through the film's runtime. Soundwise, scene after scene brims with music and dialog, and the disc's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack excels at bringing it all to life — especially the Sherman Brothers' piano melodies and composer Thomas Newman's sometimes chipper, sometimes wistful score.

Disney's Blu-ray release includes a code redeemable for a digital copy of film — available in one of a variety of formats (including iTunes and the new "Disney Movies Anywhere" service) — as well as over 23 minutes of HD special features. The most substantial of these bonus features are the 7 minutes of deleted scenes — in which Travers and Margaret share a moment under the night sky, the Sherman Brothers play another song for Pamela, and Disney and Pamela have a heartfelt conversation — and the 15-minute featurette, The Walt Disney Studios: From Poppins to the Present — which sees director John Lee Hancock touring the Disney Animation Building (where much of the film's 1961 scenes are set), to learn more about its history and Disney Studios' culture at the time. There's also the brief, 2-minute "Let's Go Fly a Kite", which immortalizes a moment that took place during the last day of filming (in which Richard Sherman leads the crew in a performance of the classic song).

It's certainly a good time to be a Mary Poppins fan, and — with its many callbacks to that 1964 Disney classic, especially its memorable songs — it's those fans who will get the most out of Saving Mr. Banks. But if you aren't familiar with that beloved film, this film might just spur your interest to discover what all the fuss is about. The bonus features on Disney's Blu-ray release don't amount to much more than a nostalgic trip down memory lane, but it's all topped off with an A/V presentation that beautifully reproduces the film's theatrical presentation. And if you want this reviewer's tuppence, that makes Saving Mr. Banks on Blu-ray recommended.

Disc Breakdown
The Film  —  ★★★½
Audio/Visual Fidelity  —  ★★★★½
Special Features  —  ★★½

* Reviewer's note: Portions of this Blu-ray review were adapted from my original review of the theatrical release, published on December 20th, 2013.

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