In an interesting move, Disney is making a movie about their maker: Walt Disney. Saving Mr. Banks takes a look at the behind-the-scenes drama that took place trying to get Mary Poppins to the big screen. Walt is played by Tom Hanks, but the movie’s focus is really on Mary Poppins‘ author P.L. Travers, played by a delightful Emma Thompson. When we meet Mrs. Travers (as she likes to be referred, even though no one in the movie wants to), she has just given in to Walt’s 20-year pursuit to bring her story to the big screen and she’s headed from London to Los Angeles to start having meetings about the adaptation.
Immediately we discover that Mrs. Travers is a bit of a wet blanket. She’s negative about everything, blunt, rude, and doesn’t really care about anyone else. It seems like quite a bad idea to create a movie around such an unlikeable character, but thank goodness for Emma Thompson. In her best role since 2003’s Love Actually, Thompson is so damn charming and delightful that you can’t help but enjoy watching this terrible woman grumble through life. It makes you angry that Hollywood doesn’t give Emma more plumb roles.
I can’t see how anyone won’t have a big smile come across their face when Travers and Disney first meet. Tom Hanks lights up the screen as soon as he emerges from his office with his arms open wide to meet Travers. Hanks and Thompson are fantastic together and every moment they have onscreen together are the highlights of the film. The low points of the film come in the flashbacks to Travers as a child. It largely deals with her relationship with her father in the flashbacks, played by an excellent Colin Farrell. The problem is that there’s just too many of these scenes. It’s not really until the third act that these scenes have any kind of emotional impact. The audience is way ahead of where these scenes are going and it becomes laboured getting through the long sequences. We just want to get back to Thompson and Hanks. It would have worked better to have these flashbacks as quick, visceral moments.
Other than that, director John Lee Hancock does a great job here. As he did with The Blind Side, he manages to keep the story away from its potential corny story from going over-the-top. He chooses the moments to really go emotional and it works very well. A late scene between Walt and P.L. when he reveals his own childhood is a thing of beauty. It’s a scene that could make Tom Hanks a double nominee at this year’s Oscars. Thompson is pretty much a shoo-in for an Oscar nod for her work here. She manages to slowly unwind her character without losing her essence.
It’s also refreshing that Disney hasn’t completely washed over the drama that did happen behind-the-scenes and hasn’t made Walt a perfect, God-like figure. He is shown to have his faults too.
Saving Mr. Banks isn’t a perfect film, but it’s a crowd-pleasing drama with laugh out loud moments featuring two fantastic performances from two of the greatest.