For a Disney movie about the creation of one of its own properties, starring Tom Hanks as Walt himself no less, Saving Mr. Banks is surprisingly digestible.
The picture, starring Emma Thompson as Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers, offers a behind-the-scenes dramatization of the tortured creative negotiations that took place in order to bring the beloved character to the big screen. To give you an idea of how far apart the two sides supposedly were, Travers here insists that there will be no music or animation in the picture.
There is something compelling here about the creative process.
Thompson isn’t given much to work with – the movie emphasizes Travers’ implacability in order to make her eventual capitulation all the more dramatic – but Hanks manages a deft supporting performance. Yes, Walt’s first appearance seems modeled on John Wayne’s entrance in Stagecoach (director John Lee Hancock even adds a little cowboy music), but after that the movie backs off and allows Hanks to depict Disney as a cleverly jovial salesman. He’s not an artist, but we understand how a man like this could have shepherded so much great art.
Though it’s thematically mature (the flashbacks to Travers’ youth mainly deal with her father’s alcoholism), Saving Mr. Banks mostly communicates at the level of a children’s film. It’s broad and, at more than two hours, repetitive. Yet there is something compelling here about the creative process, especially if you have a soft spot for musicals of the Disney variety. At one point Mary Poppins songwriters Robert Sherman and Richard Sherman (B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman) present “Fidelity Fiduciary Bank,” which ignites Travers’ memory, imagination and eventual cooperation. Their music strikes a chord in the hardest of hearts, and Saving Mr. Banks manages to do just enough of the same.