Saving Mr. Banks is a movie that tells two tales to its audience. The expected story of how the fictional character created by writer P. L. Travers (Emma Thompson) finally becomes a major motion picture thanks to Walt Disney (Tom Hanks), and the childhood of the author. Known as Ginty (Annie Rose Buckley) in those days, this story tells the audience just how Ms Travers became the stubborn, difficult woman she was.
During World War II, when she was in Manhattan, P. L. Travers was approached by Roy Disney at the behest of his brother Walt. Disney wanted to make Mrs. Travers’ Mary Poppins novels into a movie. Mrs. Travers had no interest in this project and refused the annual requests from Walt Disney to reconsider. But in 1961, she was out of money. She hadn’t written a Mary Poppins novel in nearly a decade. At the urging of her agent, Diarmuid Russell (Ronan Vibert), she agrees to travel to Southern California to at least listen to what Disney has to say. She isn’t committed to signing away the rights without keeping control of how her creation moves from the written page to the big screen.
The initial contacts do not go well. She meets the Sherman brothers, Richard (Jason Schwartzman) and Robert (B. J. Novak), who are writing the music for the movie. She also gets to meet Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford), co-writer of the screenplay. She doesn’t want it to be a musical. She doesn’t want anything but proper English to be spoken by the characters. She refuses to approve the casting of Dick Van Dyke. She insists that all of their working sessions be recorded on audiotape.
These are just some of the hurdles that Walt Disney must overcome in order to get Mrs. Travers (interestingly, though she never married, she insists on being called Mrs. Travers, even though Walt Disney wants to be on a first name basis with everyone at the studio) to sign on the dotted line. Without that signature, the promise he made to his daughters to make a movie from their favorite books will be broken.
Director John Lee Hancock has a gift for taking true stories and bringing them to the big screen with a minimal amount of fictionalization. It’s a gift we’ve been treated to in The Rookie and The Blind Side. Now this affinity for real stories is on display in a non-sports film and it’s a treat to watch. Paul Giamatti’s turn as the chauffeur assigned to Mrs. Travers is especially nice. His character manages to pierce the hard shell of this enigmatic woman and it is interesting to watch the development of their relationship. Tom Hanks makes a very good Walt Disney, although the fact we only see him smoking once in the entire film is a bit surprising. Disney was known for being a chain smoker (he died of lung cancer) although he went to great lengths to not be seen by children whenever he was smoking.
The casting and cast are excellent, the music and sets perfect for the period. This is a very good film.