Saving Mr. Banks | Film | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Saving Mr. Banks

A.K.A. Walt Disney knows best


John Lee Hancock's bio-dramedy tells how a book about super-nanny Mary Poppins was turned into a movie. The conflict concerns Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) breaking down the opposition of author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson), intercut with a heavy-handed subplot about Travers' childhood in Australia. The film is sentimental, but the flashbacks are particularly lachrymose, ensnaring poor Ruth Wilson and Colin Farrell as Travers' woeful parents.

In essence, this Disney film is a meta-text on how the Disney machine takes perfectly good works and runs them through its mill to make them sweeter, sappier and more gimmicky (adding song, dance and animation, for instance). I found it unnerving to watch as the paternal Disney has to help Travers understand her own work. (Also, Hanks' avuncular Disney seems as much a fantasy creation as Poppins' dancing penguins.)

Full disclosure: I've never seen Mary Poppins. I predate home video, and one could grow up without ever seeing a Disney film in then-rare theatrical releases. There was a book (which I read), and a popular Disney movie made of it, and maybe every bit of this crowd-pleasing backstory is true. But Disney has a well-documented record of adjusting the source material to suit its marketing needs (the actual ending of Hans Christian Andersen's "Little Mermaid" may shock you), so I can't say I buy any of this. But if you love the Mary Poppins movie, you'll likely easily make the leap to Mr. Banks.

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