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Sunday 5 January 2014

Saving Mr. Banks, Film (2013) directed by John Lee Hancock, 8* out of 10

London in the early 1960s. Behind her carapace of irony the English writer P. L. Travers (Emma Thompson), author of the Mary Poppins children’s books is faced with a dilemma. For 20 years Mr Walt Disney of the Disney Corporation has been asking for the film rights. For 20 years she has resisted, but now she is running out of money to finance an elegant home in an upmarket London neighbourhood, blossoming cherry trees and all. And so reluctantly, she will travel to America to seriously consider Disney’s offer, which by now includes giving Ms. Travers the final say on every detail of the film he would like Disney studios to make. 

Against this business-like background of the author resisting the "Disneyfication" of her work, “Saving Mr. Banks” tells the story not only of the evolution of Travers’ relationship with the team assigned by Disney to adapt her Mary Poppins books, but also the difficult events in her early childhood in the Australian outback that lie at the heart of the Mary Poppins story and of Travers’ personality.  The flashbacks to Travers’ youth feature her  bank manager father (Colin Farrell) uniquely unsuited to his job, her mother (Ruth Wilson) and the author's younger self (Annie Rose Buckley).  And Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) who is determined to win her over so he can sprinkle the lucrative Disney stardust on the Mary Poppins tale has not only commercial reasons for being so uncharacteristically patient and persistent in his campaign. During her stay in Los Angeles Travers and Walt Disney will cross swords more than once. Will their strong personalities allow them to reach real mutual understanding?

Saving Mr Banks is well written and superbly cast. At its centre are two people who have turned difficult childhoods into engaging fantasies which have entertained children of all ages. The authenticity of the story of the creation of the classic Mary Poppins movie is helped by the fact that Travers insisted that all her meetings with the scriptwriters, lyricists and composers would be taped. 

Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Paul Giamatti and Colin Farrell put in strong performances that are true to type. Hanks is the natural leader - serious businesslike charismatic and emotionally intelligent. Thompson is the English lady hiding her inadmissible feelings behind coolness and irony. Paul Giamatti as the driver of the Disney courtesy limousine, a "mensch" who brings slice of real life into the Disney dream machine. Farrell is the irresistible heartthrob and flawed lovably rogue.  

Script and direction set-up emotional highlights are very skilfully within this sentimental and likeable drama, so that even hardened critical film-buffs will have difficulty to stop themselves from welling up. Yes, this is Disney Films placing the Disney product (Disneyland, Disney corporate culture) very effectively within a story in which all things Disney play a major role; this film is also bestowing filmic sainthood on the eponymous Walt, founder of the Disney empire. Yet it cannot be denied that Saving Mr Banks is a very enjoyable film.

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