Movie Review: Saving Mr Banks (PG)

Tom Hanks as Walt Disney and Emma Thompson as P.L. Travers in Saving Mr Banks.

Review: Comedy Drama

125 minutes / Now showing / Rating: 3/5

The story: Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) has been trying to make a film about the magical English nanny Mary Poppins for 20 years. But the books' author, P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson), keeps turning him down. When her financial situation becomes pressing, she deigns to fly to Los Angeles for an exploratory trip. Once there, screenwriter Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford) and music composers Richard (Jason Schwartzman) and Robert Sherman (B.J. Novak) try desperately to win her over. Meanwhile, the story of young Travers growing up in Australia with an alcoholic yet sweet father (Colin Farrell) is told in flashbacks.

The character of Mary Poppins, a nanny who flies and conjures up wonderful adventures, is both whimsical and magical. Thus, it hardly seems possible that she was created by Mrs Travers, as she insists on being addressed. In the face of such a formidable personality, whimsy would just shrivel up and crumble away. Indeed, the character exclaims in the film that Mary Poppins is the enemy of whimsy and fluff.

The greatest pleasure of Saving Mr Banks is watching Emma Thompson play the witheringly tart author. She might be better known for her Oscarassociated roles in dramas such as Howards End (1992) and Sense And Sensibility (1995), but Thompson is also a great comic actor and her timing is impeccable.

Her disdain for Los Angeles practically drips from the screen when she declares that it smells of chlorine and sweat. And when she meets Disney, she tells him to his face: "I won't have her turned into one of your silly cartoons."

At this point in time, in 1961, Disney is already a brand and an empire with successful films and the hugely popular Disneyland theme park. He is a man accustomed to getting his way, and Tom Hanks, no stranger himself to success, conveys that nicely.

But in the face of Travers' unrelenting objections to songs, made-up words and character stylings, even Disney begins to wonder if he can ever get her to sign over the rights.

As this epic battle of wills gets under way, director John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side, 2009) intercuts it with scenes from Travers' childhood. While the frequent flashbacks disrupt the rhythm of the film, they also offer some key information on the creation of Mary Poppins. Eventually, the movie's title is explained and you understand why Travers is so fiercely protective of her work.

Fans of the 1964 film starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke would also enjoy the glimpses into the creative process of songs such as A Spoonful Of Sugar and Let's Go Fly A Kite. And Travers' curt dismissal of Van Dyke as a lightweight actor will likely raise a smile.

By the time Travers attends the Hollywood premiere of Mary Poppins - despite initially not getting an invitation from Disney - she would have won you over, caustic comebacks and all.

bchan@sph.com.sg

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