Directed by John Lee Hancock
Starring Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Annie Rose Buckley
This is the story of both the making of one of the most beloved movies in Disney’s catalogue and the story of the events that inspired the novel. All in perfect time for the 50th anniversary of Mary Poppins’ big screen debut.
Apparently the herculean task in the making of Mary Poppins was not the groundbreaking animation or the inspired musical numbers, but rather obtaining the rights from the rather proper yet cantankerous author, P L Travers. Saving Mr Banks dips back into the extensive Disney archives of this negotiation to bring us a marvellously entertaining fictional account of it. We are presented with a comedy of cultures as the uptight P L Travers (Emma Thompson) squares off against the Disney dream industry and its head showman, Walt Disney (Tom Hanks), over the fictitious nanny that holds a special place in both their hearts. At the same time we glimpse flashbacks into the past of the young Ginty (Annie Rose Buckley) and her relationship with her doting, yet alcoholic father (Colin Farrell). As the nature of these recollections become more apparent, the audience begins to see the importance of Mary Poppins to the author, and who the mystical nanny is truly there to save.
In a movie about the presentation of an idealised but flawed father figure, it seems strangely appropriate for Tom Hanks to play Disney’s founder. Although he seems almost nothing like the very recognisable Walt Disney, Hanks always brings a certain homespun likeability to all his roles that is very much in evidence here. As such he is appropriately charming, earnest and very much the showman you would expect the maverick entertainer to be. In all fairness a similar complaint could be levelled at Emma Thompson’s characterisation, but as P L Travers is less iconic than Walt it is not as jarring that Thompson’s performance channels more of Julie Andrews than a historically accurate version of the author. That said, she is wonderful, a lot of the comedy being provided by her curmudgeonly ways coming into conflict with the almost saccharine Disney staff. Yet as more of her back story is revealed, Thompson gets to stretch her acting muscles and demonstrate the emotional heart of the character, bringing a genuine fragility to a very hardnosed woman. For further insights into the historical events it is worth staying through the end credits for actual photos, sketches, and recordings from the Disney archives.
Saving Mr Banks is old school Disney magic at some of its finest, balancing its three layers of story perfectly. It pulls the heart strings, prompts howls of laughter and makes spirits soar.