Immediately, it will strike the cynics as rather odd. It’s a bit like getting a brilliant school report from your teacher who also just happens to be your Mum. Or a work reference from your brother who owns the previous company you worked for and still owes you a couple of month’s salary. In short, the source provider is questionable at best, or at worst, actually morally indefensible.
“Respsonstible is not a word.”
But responsible is, and just how much you choose to swallow from this story about Disney by Disney is entirely your own affair, but it goes without saying that those with the power of the pen (or keyboard) should not let this fact pass by unmentioned. Any reviewer worth their salt must mention this as a pre-requisite for the benefit of their readership and the audience that may be tempted to pay to view the artistic endeavour in question. So, given that it’s accepted that any portrayal of Walt Disney is likely to be flawed, given the creators, their source material, corporate loyalty and professional longevity, then we can move on with an honest appraisal of the film as a piece of entertainment, as defining this treatment as biographical is, as Mrs PL Travers may be heard to utter, completely preposterous.
Set in the early sixties and concentrating the majority of its running time on the past and present of PL Travers, the author of much-loved classic children’s story, Mary Poppins, Walt Disney is forced to take a back seat and bit part if we’re honest. Hanks’ Disney may have the best speech in the whole show, but it remains the story of just why Mary Poppins nearly never made it to the big screen and how those innocent, rapturous moments of delight, including those dancing penguins, almost never happened.
Emma Thompson’s Travers is sharp, fiercely opinionated yet beautifully flawed, helpless and yearning, without even knowing it, for the hand of understanding. Lonely and coddled in a perfected English home which will soon be taken from her unless she can find another source of income now that her royalties from Mary Poppins have withered. For twenty years, Walt Disney has courted her from afar; desperate to obtain the rights to the book for no other reason than a promise he wanted to keep to his children; to make Mary Poppins fly from the book to the screen.
Reluctantly and finally, Travers agrees to fly to America to meet Disney, on the stipulation that she will offer the rights to Disney, if he agrees to make the film she demands. She spends time with the Sherman Brothers amongst others as the songs for the film are formed and slowly, her defence about her intellectual property weakens, until she realises that Disney has plans for the film that polarise their recently blossoming relationship.
Returning regularly (and initially confusingly) to her childhood and her time spent as a young girl with her parents in Australia, the back story of Travers’ early years unfolds to explain the reasons for her reticence about the production she believes Disney intends to create. Disney, the patient, charming, enthusiastic and understanding American, this chortling, moustachioed Uncle with an unnerving sense of fun that belies his age, flatly refuses to be defeated by this tight-lipped enigma from across the pond who has what appears to be an insatiable passion for tea and the manners of a disgruntled and blinkered bull in a china shop where only one plate is red.
Thompson seems born to play the part of Travers. She has a seemingly innate ability to cut the ridiculous Americans with barbed incredulity normally reserved for stupid people that she simply has no time for. With a script that is devilish and pointed, Thompson seems to have immense fun with Travers, lacing her with just enough venom to keep her fired up without resorting to out and out abuse of the foolish idiots she is forced to deal with every day. Too much of this would have alienated her from the audience, making her bitter and regretful, but she retains a softness in the character that allows the viewer enough of a window to get into her soul.
Hanks’ Disney, as mentioned, may not be the one that those that knew him may remember. He is serious when required, with a head in the clouds of sheer imagination, but with one eye firmly on the ground, making sure his investments have a solid footing; a lesson he may have learned from his father Elias, if we are to believe his heartfelt speech in the third act that certainly goes some way to convincing Travers to do the right thing for everyone, including herself.
Ultimately, Saving Mr Banks is a little slice of wonder with super sharp scripting and attention to cinematic detail that should be admired, delivered by a more than able cast, including an excellent performance from Colin Farrell which may well fly under the radar of Thompson’s and Hank’s admitted brilliance. Above all, as a viewer, you really want this apparent true story to be as real as it is here. For it to achieve such a feat is high praise indeed and it will test the mettle of Academy voters everywhere, who will be forced, most likely, to class this as an ‘also ran’ given the usual stellar competition that will do their utmost to dance to their tune.
Entertaining certainly, but coming with its own set of moral baggage regarding its existence and the creative source it derives from. If this had been made by any other studio (who?) then this would be perfect, but the realist/cynic (delete as applicable) will believe that it is only this good purely because it comes from the house of mouse. A blessing and a curse, to be sure.