In London, England, 1961, author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) is very adamant about not writing any more books, especially regarding her beloved Mary Poppins character. The only setback is that Travers is broke and in desperate need of any sort of income just to keep afloat. Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) is an avid lover of the character and Travers' books and has pursued the down-on-her-luck author many times over the past 20 years for the rights to make a Mary Poppins film to which Travers has always denied. However staring such hardship directly in the face causes Travers to reconsider and she flies to Los Angeles to oversee production on the Walt Disney Studios production of Mary Poppins. The conflict that would arise between Travers and Disney over the course of production would be indescribably tense for the longest two weeks either side had ever experienced.
If you've ever seen Marc Forster's ("World War Z," "Stranger Than Fiction") semi-biographical drama "Finding Neverland" from 2004, then "Saving Mr. Banks" may remind you of it. "Finding Neverland" is the story of how Scottish writer J.M. Barrie (Johnny Depp) created Peter Pan. In "Saving Mr. Banks," P.L. Travers has already created Mary Poppins but you're seeing the inception of a beloved film classic come to life. John Lee Hancock's ("The Blind Side") latest differs in how musical it is. Production spirals into absolute turmoil over the Mary Poppins film thanks to how difficult Travers is with the world she's created. The music often introduces this lighthearted atmosphere that feels very carefree, but then is often immediately crushed and decimated by Travers who has a way of bringing this depressing storm cloud into the room. It's an ongoing struggle throughout the film that effortlessly strings you along. If you've ever created anything in your life that you're passionate about then you can understand where Travers is coming from, but part of you desperately wants to see Travers cave and allow this film to be made. You find yourself rooting for both sides and in no way is that a bad thing.
Part of what makes "Saving Mr. Banks" so engrossing is how bits and pieces of Travers' childhood are interwoven in between the sequences taking place in the present. Her childhood mostly revolves around how close she was to her father Travers Goff (Colin Farrell) and how haunted by the demons of drinking ripped their family apart. Farrell gives what is arguably his most impeccable performance to date. Goff tells the most fanciful and elaborate stories to his daughter, is extremely creative when it comes to using his imagination to keep his children entertained, and puts playtime above everything else. Unfortunately, he's also extremely irresponsible and doesn't take care of himself properly. Farrell's portrayal of the character is sublime. Seeing how these events affect the adult Travers battling Walt Disney is also quite intriguing.
Trying to dodge the proper, bitter, and pessimistic blows of P.L. Travers is the more understanding and sympathetic Walt Disney. Travers may be difficult, overprotective, and constantly making absurd demand after absurd demand, but Disney does his best to cater to her every whim solely because he adores the Mary Poppins character and he knows how it feels to have some stranger swoop in and try to take control over something you gave birth to and created; a living, breathing creature that has become family.
Tom Hanks is very warm and approachable as Walt Disney. He seems to have a very specific vision set in his mind of where he wants to take Mary Poppins, but Travers will have none of it. His smoking is what's getting the most attention; mostly because Walt Disney was a chain smoker and the film never shows him smoking. You hear his smoker's cough a handful of times and see him put out a single cigarette. Hank's performance is the most impressive when he's reminiscing about the worn Mary Poppins book he had growing up, his Mickey Mouse story, and his conversation with Travers about who she is and what her Mary Poppins story is really about. Tom Hanks has this soft voice that reels you in and a glimmer in his eye that always makes you feel like he sees the magic in everything.
"Saving Mr. Banks" is a whimsical and charming film that seizes hold of your childhood. The historical comedic drama tightly clutches on to the magic of what you grew up with and never lets it go. It's the cinematic equivalent of a heart of gold with absolutely exceptional performances from Tom Hanks, Colin Farrell, and Emma Thompson.
"Saving Mr. Banks" will be released in movie theaters tomorrow, December 20.