Poor P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson); she was such a cold woman. Full of that stiff-upper-lip game-facing that we’ve come to expect from the British (although Travers is actually Australian, but who cares for such distinctions, right?), she was all principle and reserve. At the start of John Lee Hancock’s Saving Mr. Banks, it is not clear immediately how long the author of Mary Poppins has been locked in a very private war of attrition, facing off against the one and only Walt Disney (Tom Hanks), backed by all of the money he has amassed thanks to his cute and cuddly animated shock-troopers.
We quickly learn, though, that she has held him off for almost 20 years because Travers has no time for impossibly cute fairies and hummable tunes with non-sensical made-up words that insinuate themselves into the brain. It’s hard to disagree with Travers, but it could be argued that Disney has the best of intentions, although he’s paving a hellishly pristine road that remains intact today with few, if any, potholes. He just wants to take it and remake it in his (corporate) image. In the hands of a lesser performer, though, audiences might rebel, just as Travers has done, even when confronted by diminishing returns from her works that could rob her of the home she’s built for herself. Hanks’ Disney wants to be a savior, believing that he truly knows best. And why wouldn’t he? The whole world knows and trusts him. He shares memories of growing up under a father who demanded more from Disney and his older brother Roy. In this moment, Disney and Travers bond (nothing like memories of dear old hard-assed dads to bring people together). Hanks sells this story, but it’s an empty deal. We just don’t realize it yet. (PG-13) Grade: B