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article imageReview: 'Saving Mr. Banks' is not quite as magical as it should be Special

By Kristal Cooper     Dec 13, 2013 in Entertainment
A movie about how Walt Disney finally convinced notoriously prickly author P.L. Travers to allow him to make her most famous novel into a movie seems like perfect holiday fare on all counts.
Beloved actors playing beloved real life figures (Tom Hanks ably takes on Disney and Emma Thompson is wracking up the award nominations for her portrayal of Travers): check. A tie-in to the anniversary of a much-loved classic movie: check. A family-friendly story with enough layers to keep various age groups entertained: check. A film that taps into both the magic of movie-making during Disney's heyday as well as its subjects: wait a minute...
Saving Mr. Banks is an odd movie on may levels. It's hard to fault Disney for wanting to take advantage of Mary Poppins' 50th Anniversary (get it on Blu-ray today!) and the long whispered about bickering between Travers and the film's production team certainly makes for a great premise. One gets the sense from watching it, however, that it's not exactly telling the whole story.
The film mostly takes place during two weeks in 1961, when Walt Disney flew P.L. Travers to his studio in Burbank to finalize a deal to make her Mary Poppins novels into a movie. It was a negotiation that had been 20 years in the making, with Travers waffling because she was very protective of her creation and did not approve of Disney's "silly" approach to making movies.
Once settled in hot and sunny California, and ensconced in the pre-production of the film, the British author begins flashing back to her childhood in Australia and remembrances of her fanciful banker Father (Colin Farrell) who drowned the sorrows of his unfulfilled dreams in drink. As it turns out, Mary Poppins has more connections to Travers' tragic past than anyone realized and soon each new song, casting choice or added line of dialogue becomes a fraught struggle to maintain the sanctity of the author's cherished and painful memories.
While Saving Mr. Banks offers a spot-on look at what making movies at Disney Studios in the 1960s would have been like, it falters when it attempts to give a fair and balanced look at its lead characters. Disney is portrayed as a whimsical genius while Travers is an icy harridan who spends most of the film saying "NO!" to the various Poppins incarnations and staring off into space to picture the various ways her beloved Father let down her family.
The whole pre-production process eventually becomes a Mouse House-fied version of The Taming of the Shrew as Disney works overtime cajoling the ever-strident Travers into accepting his vision for her work. Needless to say, it gets pretty uncomfortable to watch as the story unfolds even despite the reasons that screenwriters Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith give for Travers' frosty demeanour.
Still, the casting is perfection (especially genius is having B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman playing the Sherman Brothers, the songwriters behind almost every classic Disney song there is) and that goes a long way in making the film watchable. It's just too bad that it spends so much time sprinkling its fairy dust on Walt Disney and not enough time or space to allow the grown-up Travers to win our sympathies without the help of tear-jerking flashbacks. After all, she created one of the most bewitching characters in the history of literature — she must have a little bit of that magic in her somewhere. I would have loved to see it.
Saving Mr. Banks opens in limited theatres on December 13, 2013 and in wide release on December 20, 2013.
Follow Kristal Cooper on Twitter @mskristalcooper
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