A Disney film about the creation of a Disney film, with Tom Hanks playing Walt Disney you say? That sounds like it will be a fair appraisal of historical events, right?
As you’d expect, this tale of the 20 year battle between Mr Disney and matronly author P.L.Travers (Emma Thompson) over the rights to her much loved tale of Mary Poppins is a decidedly Disney-centric affair, and unashamedly tugs at your heart-strings. Alongside the tale of the rights battle and the development of the film, including some excellent scenes showcasing the seemingly timeless songs it featured, runs the tale of Travers own childhood and the origin of Poppins herself. Colin Farrell plays Travers’ father, an imaginative man with a very special bond with his daughter, who moves his family to the Australian outback, leaving his family increasingly isolated. The flashbacks to her family life give an extra dimension to the film, and provide the necessary back-story, but these sections don’t have the sparkle and wit of the scenes set at the Disney Studios.
Thompson and Hanks both provide the performances you would expect from actors of their calibre, and the cast is bolstered by likes of Paul Giamatti and Jason Schwartzman, meaning solid acting all round. Thompson’s Travers is resolutely British in her approach, a kind of stern governess to the Disney family. The real Travers was a mother herself, and apparently bi-sexual, rather than the lonely figure painted in Saving Mr Banks, but for the purposes of the narrative, this austere interpretation works well. Disney is largely painted as an affable but efficient businessman, but even through the sheen there are hints of the steely determination that it must have taken to build his empire.
However you can’t help but feel there is some irony in story about Travers fear of Disneyfication being so overtly Disney-fied. While the story is unashamedly saccharine, and is doubtless a very loose interpretation of the negotiations between Travers and Disney, Saving Mr Banks is an entertaining and moving family film with excellent performances.