Friday, December 20, 2013
By James A. Molnar
“Saving Mr. Banks” tells the story Walt Disney’s tireless 20-year pursuit to adapt P.L. Travers’ “Mary Poppins” books into a movie.
Disney made a promise to his daughters that he would make the book into a film and he didn’t want to go back on his promise.
Travers, played exquisitely by Emma Thompson, fears the Disney-fication of her story, thinking the serious tale would be told in a musical romp with singing, dancing and — worst of all — animation.
Tom Hanks perfectly disappears into his Walt persona while he tries to woo Travers and reassure her that her beloved story would be in good, reverential hands.
He’s willing to do whatever it takes, even if it means bending over backwards to accommodate her requests, which at one point includes leaving out the color red from the movie.
But the most fascinating part of “Saving Mr. Banks” is the interweaving of Travers’ childhood flashbacks with present day 1961.
What Travers experienced as a child has a significant impact on her writing and her present-day temperament.
Travers’ disposition makes for some very entertaining dialogue. And what audiences learn from the flashbacks is that maybe Travers needs a little Disney magic to cheer her up.
Fans of all things Disney will admire subtle details throughout the movie, including plans for Walt Disney World in Disney’s office and the shots of Disneyland.
Music from “Mary Poppins” is also expertly weaved throughout the movie and performed surprisingly well by Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak as Richard and Robert Sherman, respectively.
From the opening to closing scenes, “Saving Mr. Banks” paints a picture of Walt Disney that highlights his legacy and vision.
There is sentimentality to this true story as well, thanks in part to director John Lee Hancock, who also helped guide “The Blind Side” to a similar status.
Paul Giamatti plays a driver in this movie and some of his scenes strengthen the emotional core of “Banks.”
While the corners of the story may have been smoothed out a bit for cinematic sake, what’s left is one of the best movies of the year that leaves audiences feeling a little of that Disney magic — similar to when they first saw that flying nanny.
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements including some unsettling images.