Grade: B+

Directed by John Lee Hancock
Starring: Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Colin Farrell

Seeing the magic of movies unfold never gets old. The stories behind the stories can even be somewhat more interesting than the movie itself. John Lee Hancock's semi-biopic about the struggle to get Mary Poppins to the big screen is much more of a journey into the author's past than it is a Hollywood glamour story.

Set back-and-forth between 1960s Hollywood and the earlier 1900s coastal Australia, Saving Mr. Banks introduces us to the elusive P.L. Travers. The creator of the magical nanny Mary Poppins, Travers is everything but charming. Her cold and mean demeanor is seen and heard through every action and word presented. Oscar winner Emma Thompson completely embodies the core of Travers' emotions as she is basically forced to travel from her home in England to Los Angeles to meet with Walt Disney about a proposed movie based on her nanny story. Tom Hanks does everything he can to melt into the part of Disney, but is unfortunately never able to completely erase the fact that it's Tom Hanks playing the role of Walt Disney.

Once Travers arrives in Los Angeles her greatest fears are met with a hotel room full of Disney stuffed animals. When she later arrives at the studios to begin discussing plans for the film adaptation she is overly disgusted by all of the upbeat "nonsense" that is Disney, both the person and the product. She reminds the Sherman brothers (Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak) that the Poppins story isn't meant to be a musical. She also is very strict when it comes to who will play the characters ("Dick Van Dyke is not a legend.") and will not budge on Disney's wanting to include cartoons.

While her struggle seems over-the-top by many standards (especially when she's being met with a hefty, Disney-sized paycheck for the rights), it's the flashbacks to her upbringing that drive the story. Her father's struggles with alcoholism and the failure of her parents' marriage are the cornerstone of her entire view of life. Colin Farrell is the biggest surprise in the film as her father, at once charming when dealing with her younger persona, then nasty as a buffoon of a banker. As Travers relives these moments in her mind, Disney begins to see why she's so protective of her story and the legacy that is Mary Poppins.

Hancock has definitely stepped up here. While he helmed the Oscar nominee The Blind Side, that picture was more of a crowd-pleaser vote than it was a testament to his filmmaking. Saving Mr. Banks offers an array of opportunities to show off his talent. The unfortunate thing is that the film never quite gets past its chewy Disney-esque storytelling. Even the score seems like a made-for-TV theme at times, rather than a backdrop for an exquisite film. My biggest beef, though, is in Hanks' casting as Walt. While it's a great performance and Hanks is one of the living legends, Thompson's Travers is so perfect that Hanks' Disney falls to the side. And when you're presenting an image of the great Walt Disney, you'd never want that to happen. Thompson will most likely earn an Oscar nomination for her portrayal, which she is very deserving of.

Overall, this cheeky family film offers quite a bit of depth and a good, heartwarming story. While there's undoubtedly probably more to the story of P.L. Travers, it does change your perspective on the classic Julie Andrews masterpiece quite a bit. Now I want to watch Marry Poppins again.

Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 125 minutes

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