Disney’s ‘Saving Mr. Banks’ is a very sentimental look at an idealized version of Walt Disney and his personal quest to obtain the film rights to ‘Mary Poppins’ from its author.
In the based-on-real-life film, set in 1961, P. L. Travers (Emma Thompson), the very British (and very proper) author of the classic book ‘Mary Poppins’ is finally wooed from England to California by Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) to discuss obtaining the film rights to a story that had been his daughters’ favorite. Although Disney pursued the rights for over 20 years, Travers resisted entirely. But, by 1961, Travers’ poor financial situation prompts her finally taking a meeting with Disney, although she makes no attempt to hide her general disdain for the Disney empire and for Los Angeles. Says Travers, dripping with contempt upon landing in the City of Angels, ‘It smells...of...chlorine and sweat.’ It seems Travers has an emotional backstory that led to her well-known nanny’s creation. And, as such, Travers is unwilling to publicly air her personal history on gaudy celluloid.
Travers is soon privy to Disney’s attempt to storyboard and create the future musical, giving front-and-center, bitter commentary to each of the (now-famous) songs the Sherman brothers (B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman) have written. Disney, coming off as somewhat breezy and used to, ultimately, getting ‘his’ way, does not give up on Travers, continuing his friendly, but dogged, pursuit until ‘Mary Poppins’ becomes a film reality.
Emma Thompson’s performance is truly the heart and soul of the film. She seems to fully inhabit Travers in body and voice (in a way that becomes all the more obvious when tapes of the real-life Travers’ comments churn on reel-to-reel tape over the end credits), engrossing the audience with her fish-out-of-water role. Hanks, having already had his major star-turn this year in ‘Captain Phillips,’ seems content to play insouciant second-banana Disney. It is not until a pivotal dialogue scene with Thompson, late in the film, that Hanks finally truly displays the gravitas of his Oscar-winning talent.
Although it feels as though the Travers-Disney story is a little bit too pat, the film is still often fun, fascinating, and very likable. As many of us have a shared Disney-film heritage, the sugarcoated story (with its three-hanky backstory) feels as though we are intimately sharing in a part of personal family history. We know the familiar songs, we know what will, eventually, transpire, yet we are entranced to find out the details. ‘Saving Mr. Banks’ is rated 4 of 5 stars (‘recommended’) and is a good use of your time this season.
‘Saving Mr. Banks’ is rated PG-13 for ‘thematic elements including some unsettling images.’
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