Disney’s latest release, Saving Mr. Banks, revolves around the making of the hit film “Mary Poppins,” in which the company’s own Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) must woo the book’s starchy, soured author, Mrs. P. L. Travers (Emma Thompson), to obtain the rights to the text.
Amid the film’s savvy dialogue, as well as its haphazard dedication to historical fact and awkwardly drawn parallels between Travers’ golden-hued childhood and soggy adult life, there is Thompson: gleefully unfiltered and hopelessly cynical. Hanks, moustache perfectly manicured and a performance equally predicable, is left scrambling to catch up.
The two meet for the first time in iconic Los Angeles, Calif. It’s 1961 and Travers, per the nudging of her agent, has flown in to powwow with the man himself and his team of writers who plan to transform her book into a bubbly silver screen musical, complete with animated dancing penguins. That is, until the P.L. has her say (and records it for good measure).
On a good day, Mrs. Travers may warm up by asking a plane companion if her child will be a nuisance or telling her chauffeur, an uncharacteristically cheerful Paul Giamatti, that L.A. smells like chlorine and sweat. By tea time, she’ll have thrown an entire script out the window and, before stomping out of a review session, she’ll ban the color red from being used in any portion of the film— at all.
Each scene confirms that the casting of Thompson is as tight as the curls in her neatly kempt perm, but Hanks, who plays a twinkly-eyed passive-aggressor, offers a rather unmemorable interpretation of Disney. His uninteresting benevolence, paired with the re-occurring and somewhat ill-connected flashbacks to Travers’ childhood days (are the numerous slow mo father/daughter horseback rides really necessary?) gray an otherwise colorful film.
Despite knowing the story’s outcome before it even starts— "Mary Poppins" is a Disney classic after all—Thompson makes the space underneath Mary Poppins’ magical umbrella all the more rich. As for Hanks, let’s just say he's something short of supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.
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