Saving Mr. Banks Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Colin Farrell. Directed by John Lee Hancock. Rated PG-13. Opens Friday.
It seems likely that P.L. Travers would have hated Saving Mr. Banks. The author of the Mary Poppins books spent 20 years denying Walt Disney the rights to make a movie based on her character, relenting only when she found herself in dire financial straits. Saving Mr. Banks burnishes the story to make Disney himself (played by Tom Hanks at his Tom Hanks-iest) the savior of Travers (Emma Thompson), rescuing her from despair and helping to resolve some of her longstanding emotional trauma.
The story focuses on the two weeks that Travers spent in LA in 1961, working with Disney, screenwriter Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford) and songwriting brothers Robert (B.J. Novak) and Richard Sherman (Jason Schwartzman). Director John Lee Hancock and screenwriters Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith spend an almost equal amount of time on flashbacks to Travers’ childhood, in particular her relationship with her irresponsible (but lovable) alcoholic father (Colin Farrell).
Nearly every objection the prim, prickly Travers (effectively embodied by Thompson) has to Disney’s plans for the Mary Poppins movie ends up with a convenient one-to-one analogue in her childhood, reducing her protectiveness over her work to a severe case of daddy issues. This has to be the only movie about the creative process ever to come down against artistic integrity, and its simplistic, sentimental story does a disservice to the real people it depicts. At least when Disney butchered Travers’ book, he created a classic film in the process; Saving Mr. Banks just makes his company look like sore winners.