A film about Walt Disney, made by Disney, runs the risk of coming across like a self-congratulatory pig in its own muck, but Saving Mr. Banks has managed to save its own bacon by actually, being very good.
It took 20 years for Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) to convince Pamela Travers (Emma Thompson) to sign over the rights to her book Mary Poppins. Where Walt sees singing penguins and singsongs using made-up words, the underlying story of Ms Poppins is conceived from the much darker tale of her author’s troubled upbringing. It’s only after decades of questioning Travers’ steadfast reluctance and icy temperament that Walt realises she’s being protective, not precious over the legacy of her childhood.
… Travers claims ‘Disneyland is to the soul like a thunderstorm is to the air’…
Walt shifts the gear away from his own relentless pursuit he claims would grant the wishes of his daughters who want to see their favourite book on the big screen (although ‘daughters’ might also be Mickey Mouse speak for ‘bank balance’). Once he begins to understand Travers’ emotional connection with her famed novel, and after a bit of a Jeremy Kyle moment on the sofa, she begins to thaw and finally they can sing from the same song sheet.
The film has a lot of fun wedging a mile long yardstick between the stiff upper lip of the Brits and the jazz hands of the Yanks. Shrill ‘Pam’ insists on being called ‘Ms Travers’ and ‘Mr. Disney’ prefers ‘Walt’. He has coffee from paper beakers, she has tea in a proper tea cup and saucer. This awkward waltz provides a lot of comedic toe-stepping and genuine laughs before the trademark cathartic finale which embarrassingly provokes sentimental shivers.
Woven into the schmoozing of Disney and Travers is the sometimes over-egged back story of young Pam’s troubled parents. Dad is played by an unusually gooey Colin Farrell who only really becomes comfortable to watch when he gets unshaven and drunk – that’s the Farrell we love.
Emma Thompson is marvelous. She’s perfectly pompous yet shows she’s got heart at the twinkle of an eye. And who else could play one of the granddaddies of Hollywood better than Mr Movie Americana himself, Tom Hanks?
Disney knows Brits bristle at the unapologetic glitter-bombed showmanship of all things Disney, and Saving Mr. Banks lays all its flaws out like a puppy with its tail between its legs. Many heads will nod in agreeance when Travers claims ‘Disneyland to the soul is like a thunderstorm to the air’. But like Pam, sorry – Ms Travers, trying to dislike it will be the epitome of cutting your nose off to spite your face. Before you know it, you too will have been spellbound by the Disney magic.
Released: 29th November 2013
Director: John Lee Hancock