The life and career cornerstone of author P.L. Travers, is the screen subject of director John Lee Hancock’s (“The Blind Side”) latest motion picture.
Academy Award winner Emma Thompson (“Sense and Sensibility,” “Howard’s End”) is the author who created the world’s most beloved flying nanny but her career has taken a financial downturn and she is in a desperate state. She is so desperate, she is willing to fly to Los Angeles for two weeks and adhere to listen to a longtime stalker who could help her turn her situation around.
For 20 years, Travers has dodged the requests to adapt “Mary Poppins” into a major motion picture under the guise of Walt Disney, played by Academy Award winner Tom Hanks (“Forrest Gump,” “Saving Private Ryan”), who promised his daughters that he would make Mary Poppins “fly off the pages of her book. I promised them ma’am“-Tom Hanks as Walt Disney
Travers has big objections to Disney’s methods: she is against the use of music, she is defiantly against animation (especially the color red), she is resistant to made-up words such as “responstible” and “supercalifragilisticexpialidocius,” she doesn’t want her creation distorted to Disney’s vision and she doesn’t want this motion picture to happen at all.
“I know what he is going to do to her. She’ll be cavorting and twinkling“-Emma Thompson as P.L. Travers
With Travers’ resistance to sign over the rights being the sole obstacle keeping the studio from giving the green light to begin production, Disney must work every ounce of magic he has to get her on board with the project because he has been in her shoes before.
“I was just a kid from Missouri with a sketch of Mickey. That mouse, is family“-Tom Hanks as Walt Disney
Disney makes it his mission to uncover the story behind Travers’ character, but eventually his mission leads him to uncover some truths behind Travers’ life, which inspired her to write her book. Travers was inspired by events from her own childhood and her relationship with her father, played by Golden Globe winner Colin Farrell (“In Bruges,” “Miami Vice”).
Disney fully intends to keep his 20 year old promise but he must also adhere to the wishes of Travers’ suggestions to keep her character’s integrity because the true motivation for Mary Poppins isn’t saving the Banks children, but rather “Saving Mr. Banks.”
“Saving Mr. Banks” is an impressionable and fluffy yarn about how one of history’s most treasured motion pictures managed to become a motion picture. The film has its lulls, but the on-screen chemistry between Emma Thompson’s P.L. Travers and Tom Hanks’ Walt Disney is the sole reason why this movie is one to not miss, especially this season.
John Lee Hancock does an average job directing a not-so-special motion picture. The film seeks to showcase how the childhood of Thompson’s character shaped her into who she is in the picture, how her childhood inspired her to write Mary Poppins and how her inspiration and vision was at-odds with Disney’s vision; the film is essentially centered on Thompson but is unbalanced by the flashbacks and flashfowards.
Emma Thompson is clearly the star of the show. Her performance reminds audiences of an overprotective parent who loosens up over time and takes a leap of faith at the end at the end of the film; she gives a stout performance as P.L. Travers and audiences will definitely find her engaging, crass, they’ll smile when she smiles, her performance is rather refreshing.
Tom Hanks’ Disney is clearly overshadowed by Thompson’s character and thus his performance doesn’t carry the impact one expects when an actor is going to portray a prolific figure in motion picture history. Though his performance as Disney doesn’t exactly shine through, audiences can see how catalyzing and tenacious Disney was to acquire the rights from Travers while honoring her vision for her character.
The supporting actors such as Academy Award nominee Paul Giamatti (“Cinderella Man”), Jason Schwartzman (“Moonrise Kingdom”), B. J. Novak (“The Smurfs”), Kathy Baker (“Last Chance Harvey”), and Bradley Whitford (“The Cabin in the Woods”) all leave fleeting impressions on this movie. When the film concludes, one might not even remember anyone other than Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson.
Perhaps the screenplay from Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith isn’t exactly designed well to showcase the enormity of the feature. The movie goes back and forth and just ends without a shred of depth or resolution that the film just feels unfulfilled.
“Saving Mr. Banks” has its high moments and it may seem fascinating to fans of “Mary Poppins” but unfortunately outside of the stars of Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks, the film just falls flat.