“Saving Mr. Banks” is nothing like the Disney movies you’re used to seeing. It’s at times a sobering tale, and one that surprisingly doesn’t portray the studio’s revered founder, Walt Disney, in the most flattering light. But it’s the best movie Disney has produced in a long time, and one of the best movies of the year; interesting, since it’s about the making of the best live-action movie the Disney Studios ever made.
Directed by John Lee Hancock, “Saving Mr. Banks” is set in 1961; author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) reluctantly travels from her home in London to Hollywood to meet with Walt Disney (Tom Hanks), who has been hassling her for twenty years to grant him the film rights to her book “Mary Poppins”. Travers is afraid of Disney tearing her beloved story and characters apart with silly songs and cartoons; as flashbacks to her childhood and her father (played by Colin Farrell) reveal, the story is more personal than Disney and his team realize, as their every over-the-top effort to win the hardened Travers over is shot down.
The film also features B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman as the Sherman brothers, who wrote all of the wonderful songs in “Mary Poppins”, Bradley Whitford as scriptwriter Don DaGradi, and Paul Giamatti as Ralph, Travers’ kindly driver while she is in Hollywood. While the peeks into the creation of “Mary Poppins” that this film offers are fascinating, it’s really about Travers coming to terms with her past, and Disney coming to understand that there is so much more to this story about a flying nanny.
Despite her hard demeanor and almost rude behavior, Travers is easy to sympathize with. It’s just as sad and frustrating to the viewer as it is to her that Disney doesn’t fully understand the story, especially as the flashbacks reveal more and more about her. Walt Disney, meanwhile, is almost too controlling and stubborn to the point where it isn’t hard to dislike him, from having stuffed Mickeys filling Travers’ hotel room and trays of desserts sent into every meeting to dragging her along to Disneyland with him. Thompson is simply splendid and heart-breaking in her role, giving one of the best, if not the best, performance of any actress this year. Hanks is also very good, especially considering the big shoes he had to fill; he is the first actor to portray Walt Disney in a feature film.
The film also doesn’t shy away from the brutal realities of Travers’ childhood, from her alcoholic father to her mother, who just couldn’t seem to handle any of them. But most importantly and impressively, it doesn’t settle for a false sentimental ending. At times it almost felt like it was heading in that direction, but it doesn’t. It’s obvious that Travers is not happy with a vast majority of the “Mary Poppins” film, but Disney got the heart of the story right, and her reaction to that is priceless.
“Saving Mr. Banks” is one of the best movies of the year about one of the best movies ever made, and a woman who will hopefully now get the recognition she deserves. It lends understanding to a film that, as it turns out, is so much more than mere fantasy; in fact, it’s one of the most real films Disney ever made.
Runtime: 125 minutes. Rated PG-13 for thematic elements including some unsettling images.
Check out showtimes for this movie and more at the following St. Louis-area theaters:
- Wehrenberg Theatres
- AMC Theatres
- Regal Movie Theatres
- Galleria 6
- Chase Park Plaza
- Moolah Theatre
- Hi-Pointe Theatre
- St. Andrews Cinema
- Plaza Frontenac Cinema
- Tivoli Theatre
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