Starring Tom Hanks, Emma Thompson, Colin Farrell, Ruth Wilson, Paul Giamatti; director John Lee Hancock; 120 minutes; PG-13 for thematic elements including some unsettling images, Grade: F
"Saving Mr. Banks" is a shameless wad of corporate PR, a feel-good Disney film about the making of a Disney film. The property in question is "Mary Poppins," and the new film dramatizes the culmination of a 23-year crusade by Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) to win the film rights from the author, P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson).
It was a tussle between two people accustomed to getting their own way. The film slaps a prefab happy ending on the bruising collision of ego, art and commerce. The direction by John Lee Hancock ("The Blind Side") is notably nondescript.
Travers agrees to visit California, the land of shallow sunshine and money-stuffed briefcases, for two weeks of creative consultations on the proposed script. She half hopes the negotiations will collapse, less than half believes that her invincible integrity will mold the project into a film she can live with.
In the Mary Poppins books, a cool, collected woman arrives seemingly out of nowhere and proceeds to impose on a chaotic household her ideas of order. That's what Travers attempts to achieve here, laboring to bend Disney's creative funhouse to her will.
Hanks' Disney is a calm, deliberate "Father Knows Best" type whose only vices are an afternoon whiskey and hints of offscreen smoking. You can see why he and the glacially reserved Travers would disagree.
The film rewrites history, however, with Disney melting her heart during a fictional get-together in London. Disney wins her trust with a cornball tale of childhood woe in Missouri.
The real Travers would have shut him down with a brisk "We all have our troubles." Colin Covert, Star Tribune