WRITTEN BY: Kelly Marcel, Sue Smith
DIRECTED BY: John Lee Hancock
STARRING: Tom Hanks, Emma Thompson, Colin Farrell, Annie Buckley, Bradley Whitford
RATING: 4.5 stars
There is always some criticism about inaccuracies in films that are supposed to be based on true stories. Saving Mr Banks perhaps tries to maintain the positive image of Walt Disney as a man who brought so much happiness to people, while he actually had some major personality flaws. But then, the film is not really about him. It is also rather convenient that this film would be made to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Mary Poppins film. But, if you can put that cynicism aside, Saving Mr Banks is a surprisingly funny, interesting and moving story about the woman who created the beloved fictional nanny.
In Saving Mr Banks, author P. L. Travers (Emma Thompson) reflects on her difficult childhood growing up in Australia as she meets with filmmaker Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) during the adaptation of her novel, Mary Poppins. Travers cherishes the nanny so much that she is loathe to part ways with the character creatively and refuses to sign away the rights unless she can be involved in the production.
If you have read the Mary Poppins books, or watched the film or stage production, you will probably have an affection for the character. But Saving Mr Banks is quite an eye opener about the character's creator and tells the behind the scenes story with heart through a series of flashbacks. In fact, director John Lee Hancock has done an impressive job of transitioning between the two eras for maximum emotional impact.
Emma Thompson gives a flawless performance as Travers. She is snappy, funny, witty, proper, and so very English. This film belongs to her and she is absolutely perfect. For me, perhaps only Cate Blanchett has given a slightly stronger performance this past year. Hanks is quite good as Disney, but he does not really stretch himself much in the role. For all the award attention he has been getting lately, I think it is better placed for his role in Captain Phillips.
Colin Farrell gives a powerful performance as Travers' alcoholic father in the flashbacks. It is a shame he has been overshadowed by Thompson and Hanks. Annie Buckley plays the young Travers and is also very good, especially for such a young actress. Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak are well cast as songwriters Richard and Robert Sherman, and Bradley Whitford also provides plenty of laughs. Paul Giamatti has a small yet significant role as an endearing limo driver, and Rachel Griffiths has a pivotal role as Aunt Ellie. I would have liked to see more of her.
If you see Saving Mr Banks, make sure you bring some tissues. Stay for the end credits too to see real life photographs of the author and some recordings from her meetings with the Disney staff.