Cynics be warned. If you can’t get on board with Disney’s brand of joyous optimism then you’ll find no recourse here. Saving Mr. Banks is nostalgia-inducing sentimentalism at its purest. It tells the true to life story of the severely uptight author P.L Travers and the pains she put Walt and the rest of the Disney company through in order to procure the rights to her Mary Poppins.
While slightly caricaturesque at first, the rude and prudish Travers is given wondrous emotional depth and complexity by the ever-graceful Emma Thompson who carries the bulk of the show marvellously. Quick witted and hugely protective of the authenticity and integrity of her most sacred character, Travers struggles with the prospect of letting go of a creation who is etched so firmly in her own tormented family history.
The fish-out-of-water concept works perfectly in this environment as well. Those who find Disney’s gloss and abundance of happiness tiresome may relate to Travers’ own trepidations. Driven around by the always-chirpy Paul Giamatti and surrounded by a cheery band of Disney filmmakers, played wonderfully by Bradley Whitford, Jason Schwartzman, B.J Novak and headlined by a perfectly cast Tom Hanks as Walt himself, the awkward clashing of British and American culture delivers far more laughs than I thought a film like this ever could.
When Travers isn’t nitpicking and sabotaging the creative process, she is haunted by the memories of her past. Though strongly performed by Colin Farrell and Ruth Wilson (both almost perfecting the complex British/Australian accent), the flashback sequences did become a little repetitive and felt ever-so-slightly forced from time to time. While this doesn’t detract from the overall effectiveness of the story, they were detours that took us away from watching the charming and offbeat dynamics between Thompson and Hanks.
My own small nitpicks aside, there is no denying that Saving Mr. Banks has that Disney ‘magic’ the company often spoke of. Director John Lee Hancock and screenwriters Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith craft a film that looks back lovingly at one of Disney’s most prized achievements, while also packing an unexpected emotional punch to its offering.
While the untold story allows us to relive those iconic show tunes with exuberant glee, it’s the film’s moving focus on the concept of redemption that truly allows it to soar.
It’s just delightful.