In director John Lee Hancock’s Saving Mr. Banks, we’re told a story about the famed Walt Disney’s repeated attempts to convince author P.L. Travers to let him put her beloved character Mary Poppins to film. Of course, we know the film did eventually come to fruition, so there’s no surprise there; the treat of Saving Mr. Banks is in seeing just how–and why–a deal was finally reached.
Framed within the mirroring of two critical moments in the life of P.L. Travers, Saving Mr. Banks presents a joyful surface clad in whimsical folly but carries with it a bottomless handbag filled with sobriety and weighty tales of innocence lost and found. Ostensibly about an author allowing an animator to adapt her beloved work, the film’s ultimate conceit is in the trust of one to allow another to have control of the story of a lifetime. Where the film really succeeds is in its ability to weave themes both light and heavy in and out of one another with the fluidity of warm English tea pouring from a porcelain kettle.
Portraying Walt Disney is the incomparable Tom Hanks, putting his ageless, boyish charm to good work and bringing the animation icon to life in that inviting and lovable way only Hanks can offer. For this film, it is imperative that Disney not just be the believable head of “The Happiest Place on Earth”; someone the sight of whom just makes you feel like smiling, but he must also be a man you can’t help but put your complete trust in. Hanks has that indelible affability, and it turns up here in all the right moments.
As P.L. Travers, we have the terrific Emma Thompson who so well plays up the juxtaposition of Travers’ personality to that of Disney. As the film goes on, the way the relationship between Travers and Disney evolves, with bits of each of them ever so slightly melting into one another, is so delightful to watch, and Thompson’s subtle alterations from moment to moment make watching the character’s ugly demeanor so much easier than it could have been.
The film’s cast also includes Bradley Whitford, BJ Novak, and Jason Schwartzman, who all three give the kind of quality performance we’ve come to expect from them; and Paul Giamatti who plays a wonderful Hoke Colburn to Emma Thompson’s “Miss Daisy”. The other major role of the film belongs to Colin Farrell. Without giving away too much of the plot–hopefully I haven’t reached that point already–Farrell gives a superb performance that so much reminded me of Johnny Depp in my favorite film ever Finding Neverland.
At the end of the day, I’d say that may be why I, personally, enjoyed this film as much as I’ve enjoyed any film in a long while: it does remind me an awful lot of Finding Neverland, and–in my book–that’s a damn good thing. The two films share an undeniable message on the power of embracing imagination. Although there is one scene–the film’s best scene–that is stunningly well done in its portrayal of Travers’ memories melding with her present thoughts, John Lee Hancock’s film doesn’t quite do as much to capture the feeling of unbridled imagination as Marc Forster’s Finding Neverland; however, Saving Mr. Banks does go just as far in its championing of imagination’s unmatched ability to save one’s life.
If you love Disney’s adaptation of P.L. Travers’ Mary Poppins, then I’d say Saving Mr. Banks will give you an even better appreciation of that film and its source material. If you’re not much of a fan of the Mary Poppins film–as P.L. Travers apparently, in fact, was not–Saving Mr. Banks is still an endearing film with sensational acting, wonderful writing, and a lovely message.