Reviewed By

Christopher Armstead
There's a scene in this film 'Saving Mr. Banks' where author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) blasts Disneyland and Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) calling him and various properties a 'Dollar Printing Machine'.  Finally, a segue where I can get this off of my chest.  We're at Disney on Ice a few years back, and the boy says he wants a sno-cone.  No problem, it's just shave ice and condensed kool-aid.  Roughly 4 cents worth of raw materials.  But the sno-cone had Mickey Mouse ears on it.  Thus that 4 cents worth of raw materials has now skyrocketed to eighteen dollars.  Plus tax.  Now Walt had been dead a good fifty years by the time this tragedy took place, because I had to buy it now, but surely he wouldn't have been happy about this.  But then I watched this movie.  I think somewhere Walt is smiling that I willingly dropped eighteen dollars at one of his venues for shaved ice and condensed Kool-Aid.

It's 1961 and for twenty years Walt Disney has been trying to convince P.L. Travers to sign over the rights to her signature character Mary Poppins.  Travers had steadfastly refused, dreading the Disneyfication of her beloved character, but considering she hasn't published a book for a while and money is low, she catches the red eye to Los Angeles to at least hear what Walt has to say.

Travers agrees to at least work with Walt's Poppins team, which consists of screenwriter Don DaGradi (Bradley Whiford) and the songwriting brothers Robert and Richard Sherman (B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman), but she gets final say on everything.  And for the love of God in Heaven, there better not be in any animation in this Disney movie.

So there are difficult people, there are impossible people, and then there is P.L. Travers.  But we are given a vivid illustration into why Ms. Travers is the way she is as the movie often intercuts with scenes of her life in Australia, being raised by her loving but tortured father Travers (Colin Farrell) and her put upon mother Margaret (Ruth Wilson), a childhood which actually serves as the foundation for the Mary Poppins books.
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Regardless of all of that, Walt and his team could really care less and just want to muddle through P.L. Travers insane list of demands so that he can get this movie made.  And just when it looked like progress was being made… it all blew up once again.  History, of course, informs us that eventually a Mary Poppins movie will get made.  Reading the actual history tells me it probably didn't actually go down the way it ended up going down in this movie, but we need to feel good at the end, and somebody giving in because they're flat broke just doesn't play out as well as somebody giving in because of Walt Disney's amazing powers of making others coming to terms with themselves through self-realization and tears.  That plays out much better.

On the surface, there's nothing wrong with Disney's 'Saving Mr. Banks'.  I mean, how could there be?  It's a story about the making of the beloved Mary Poppins, it's a story about a damaged woman coming to terms with her once happy inner little girl, it has Emma Thompson playing a haughty Englishwoman… think she can do that?  And it has the great Tom Hanks playing an extremely likable everyman… think he can do that?  Plus it's directed by John Lee Hancock whose last movie was 'The Blind Side' which plays out an awful lot like this movie.  Only instead of a damaged 300 pound black dude we need to save with the help of a saucy white lady, we have 120 pound English woman we need to save with the help of a saucy white guy.  So there's nothing wrong with this movie as it plays out just right and hits every note at just exactly the right time until coming to its tear filled conclusion.  And that's exactly what's wrong with this movie. 

Now allow me to qualify this by saying that 'Saving Mr. Banks' is a fine film.  Well acted, expertly shot, and perfectly entertaining for the most part.  I'd almost go as far to say one would have to be a bit of a cynic not to be taken in by the likes of Tom Hanks and Paul Giamatti playing salt of the earth great guys just trying to make their small corner of the Earth a better place, in their own small way.  Unfortunately, as it turns out, I'm a bit of a cynic.

I so badly wanted to get swept away into the eventual redemption of P.L Travers, to be captured by the homey winsomeness of Walt Disney, and relish in the genius of the Sherman Brothers… okay, maybe that part actually did hook me in… but instead of being pulled in by the completely adorable Annie Rose Buckley playing the young Pamela Travers, under her real name of Helen 'Ginty' Goff, but I was feeling more manipulated and yanked on more than anything else.  Of course all forms of entertainment, be it a 3 minute song, a canvas painting or 12 part TV mini-series are designed to manipulate us in some way, but when I can feel the tugging, I tend to resist.  It didn't help my cause to love this movie that Emma Thompson's P.L. Travers was one of the more unlikable characters we were forced to spend time with.  History tells us, that if anything, Emma Thompson actually toned her character down, which is almost nightmare inducing to even think about, but Travers redemption couldn't come soon enough, even if it didn't really ever happen.

Once again, the skill, gloss, and talent on display for 'Saving Mr. Banks' is obvious.  There's just not a lot of subtlety in how it goes about its business.  I just prefer to be massaged into these emotions instead of bludgeoned into them.
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