All Sugar, No Medicine - A 'Saving Mr. Banks' Review
by Jim Puliafio
Many of us have heard about the exclusive behind-the-scenes, underground tunnel tour of Walt Disney World, or Walt's hidden apartment at Disneyland. However, few -- aside from hardcore Disney-philes -- have actually been lucky enough to experience them. Can you imagine what a treat it would be to get inside, look around and see the underpinnings of how things really come together to bring us Disney’s special brand of joy? Well, such a background glimpse is what Disney aims to give us in 'Saving Mr. Banks', Disney Studios' new movie which brings to life the story of how Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) and his creative team worked with P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) to adapt her novel into the iconic 1964 screen classic 'Mary Poppins'.
As with all things Disney, however, you can also bet that this movie tour of sorts is also closely controlled by Mouse Management Inc. with a very keen eye toward providing us with the happiest experience while keeping the unpleasant aspects hidden. And so it is with 'Saving Mr. Banks.' Even though we sense that we are being fed the most favorable version of reality -- one spoonful of sugar at a time -- there is still a lot to love in this wonderful film. In fact, as it did with us, it's very likely that this movie will do two things: 1) Make you cry and 2) Give you the desire to immediately find your 'Mary Poppins' DVD or streaming source for a re-watch, which is sure to be enhanced by recalling the fun facts and details that 'Saving Mr. Banks' provides.
The film is at its best when it lets us inside to see the struggles of the strong-headed Travers with just about everyone else during her time spent with Walt Disney and his team as a "script consultant" to the movie. It's also deliciously funny in some of these moments, especially when sparks fly due to the creative differences and friction between the stubborn Travers, Walt Disney and the Disney Studios creative team assigned to the project.
An immense amount of the credit for this movie working as well as it does goes to the amazing performance of Emma Thompson as the irascible P. L. Travers. Thompson is able to bring this distantly obscure character to life, in a performance worthy of a Best Actress Oscar nomination (I'm counting on it). Whether or not her portrayal is accurate to the personality of the real Travers, we'll never know. But Thompson certainly makes Travers feel to us immediate and authentic as the sharply harsh, outspoken British eccentric, but with a hint of dormant warmth that we hope to see come to the surface before the credits roll.
The movie, through several flashbacks, also gives us the story of Travers' difficult childhood, growing up with her mother and adored father (Colin Farell) in rural Australia, spotlighting events which became the inspiration for the Mary Poppins character and story in her novel.
Probably the most noticeable misstep is Hanks' portrayal of Walt Disney, however, which feels like an awkward impersonation of Disney's mannerisms. Making up for this, though, is the surprising and warmly touching side story, portraying an unlikely but sweet relationship that develops between Travers and her limo driver (Paul Giamatti in yet another of his perfectly understated supporting roles).
In the end, despite the lingering feeling that "the house of mouse" may have buried or whitewashed some aspects of its dealings with PL Travers and how 'Mary Poppins' was brought to the screen, the result still succeeds as a wonderfully entertaining movie with an emotionally moving, feel-good ending (yes, eyes will get watery). Hey...it's Disney, remember?
While a must see for Disney fans, 'Saving Mr. Banks' is a movie that anyone would certainly enjoy spending some holiday time with...in the most delightful way, of course.