“Saving Mr. Banks” is the supposedly true story about Walt Disney bringing “Mary Poppins” to theaters and the tragic childhood of the book’s author P.L. Travers. In actuality, it is an overly saccharine revisionist tale by Disney that is precisely what Travers objected to. The film, like most by Disney, is all about that grumpy individual who learns about the magic around them and is happier for it. Unfortunately real life is not a fairy tale and this story does not have the happy ending that Disney tries to pass off.
That is not a knock against the entire Disney film library, nor against altering historical events for the sake of narrative. Disney has a long cinematic history of wonderfully enchanting films, and sometimes historical accuracy has to take a backseat to storytelling in order to make a great movie. And in the film’s defense it is accurate in many regards. However, when the largest inaccuracy in the film is almost a polar opposite to the truth, it cannot go ignored.
Regardless of whether the events are accurate or not, “Saving Mr. Banks” is a film with high potential, but an inability to meet it. The framing of the story, jumping between bringing “Mary Poppins” to cinemas and Travers’ childhood that inspired the story, simply does not work. Part of the problem is that Travers’ attitude in her adult life is not all that bizarre or even confusing, regardless of having an alcoholic father. It never seems like the childhood trauma meshes with the adult Travers and it distracts rather than entices. It also takes away from what most people want to see: Walt Disney.
It cannot be overstated how wonderful Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson are as Walt Disney and P.L. Travers respectively, no matter how misguided the latter’s characterization may be. The two have great chemistry and work well with one another. Thompson shows great emotional range as the writer who fears her creation will be destroyed by a real-life cartoon character. Hanks could have portrayed Walt as the same character that appeared on television, but he brings a human element that most of the general public never saw of the entertainment mogul. Walt can be fun loving, but also frustrated, heartbroken, tired and angry. Of course, this being a Disney production, we do not see any truly dark side of Walt Disney, but for a film that is supposed to be light hearted, it is a reasonable exclusion.
In short, “Saving Mr. Banks” is a frustrating film. The film looks and sounds beautiful with great performances from Hanks, Thompson and supporting cast members Colin Farrell and Paul Giamatti, but ultimately succumbs to a narrative that required serious reworking and an ending that did not represent what P.L. Travers fought against. If you are a hardcore Disney fanatic or want a light hearted film that requires little thought, then by all means see the film– it makes for a perfect movie to take your grandmother to. However, for those who want a film with a little more bite and a better story, it is best to wait until the film is available for rental, if just for Hanks and Thompson.