Saving Mr Banks: Movie Review
Cast: Tom Hanks, Emma Thompson, Colin Farrell, Rachel Griffiths, Ruth Wilson, Paul Giamatti, Bradley Whitford, Jason Schwartzman, BJ Novak
Director: John Lee Hancock
A Disney film about the making of a Disney film that was so beloved by so many?
Yep, that's Saving Mr Banks - about the creative wrangles and 20 year fight good ole Walt faced to get Mary Poppins author P L Travers to hand over her creation to the Mouse empire.
Emma Thompson is Mary Poppins author P L Travers in this film which begins in 1961 in London with her accountant urging her to reconsider and sign the rights to Disney before she goes bankrupt. After years of wooing her, Tom Hanks' Walt Disney wants her to come to Hollywood so he can mount one final push and show her that he will be careful of how she's committed to celluloid.
But old Walt, despite the charm offensive, has reckoned without the over-protective and over-bearing nature of Travers, whose pernickerty ways could signal the end of Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious before it even hits the screen.
However, through flashbacks to her childhood, Travers' reasons for wanting to protect Mary Poppins are gradually revealed - and it looks like Walt may have to break a promise he made to his own daughters some 20 years ago over the making of the film....
Emma Thompson excels as the controlling Travers, a woman whose life has been precariously built up around the nanny, who saved her in more ways than one. There are plenty of guffaws as Travers dishes out withering looks or put downs as she deals with growing exasperation with the songwriting Sherman brothers (Schwartzman and Novak) and the dwindling patience of Disney. It's a bravura performance, one which soars thanks to the self control of Thompson herself - from the very beginning to the very end of this, she owns and commands the screen with incredible cinematic aplomb - and I'd be very surprised to see her passed over in the forthcoming awards season.
If anything, Hanks' solid performance as Disney is a little overshadowed by the greatness of Thompson. He delivers a slick and subtle turn as the slick showman, so determined to win and fulfil his dream of making Mary Poppins part of the House of Mouse. From bombarding Travers in her hotel room with a plethora of plush stuffed toys, he lays on the charm. It's only really in the final scenes that Disney's ruthlessness comes to the fore as he refuses to have Travers at the premiere of the movie, for fear she could damage its reputation.
So with these two at loggerheads and Travers' antics in the rehearsal room proving the meat on this backstory's bones, it's a shame to say that Hancock over-eggs the narrative pudding with more than just a spoonful of sugar by over-using flashbacks to Travers' life as a youngster in Australia. Complete with Colin Farrell, these are used too often when sparing insertion into the story would have proved more effective. No more is this apparent than in the final sequence as Travers watches Mary Poppins and the director chooses to overstate the sentiment by cutting back and forth - a little subtlety and easing up would have worked wonders, instead of plumping for mawkish, heavy-handed manipulative film-making.
Overall, Saving Mr Banks soars because of Emma Thompson's uptight PL Travers; it's a fascinating dramatisation of what happens when British stiff upper lip meets a bombastic American charm offensive; it's just a shame that in parts, it's a terribly hollow and typically manipulative piece, which cries out for more simplicity and subtlety.