Movie review: “Saving Mr. Banks” solid but self-congratulatory

  • Photo courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures
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From the December 19, 2013 edition

“Saving Mr. Banks” taps in to a kind of behind-the-scenes nostalgia that will tug at certain heart strings around the holiday season. It’s the Oscar candidate for the entire family!

It tells the story of “Mary Poppins” author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson), whose no-nonsense demeanor and British mannerisms put her at odds with the Disney brand of whimsy.

She is courted and coaxed by Walt Disney himself (Tom Hanks), who has his own vision of Mary Poppins on the screen, one which doesn’t line up with the author’s.

Thompson is quite great in the lead role, conveying in her present the effects of a past that we see in frequent flashback.

Director John Lee Hancock uses a whole bunch of spoonfuls of sugar to make that tough backstory medicine go down. Also, unsurprisingly the film released by Disney has nothing but warm fuzzies for Disney’s side of this process. Travers comes off as the stodgy Fun Police, rather than an author trying to protect her work.

Of course, we know and love the movie version of “Poppins,” so there’s charm in watching a pair of writers (Bradley Whitford and B.J. Novak) hashing out now-beloved lyrics under Travers’ wrinkled nose. Hanks plays the “aw, shucks” charms of Disney in a limited screentime. “Mr. Banks” is still an entertaining, if lopsided, story.

Also, if you liked Hancock’s last film, “The Blind Side,” you’ll probably like this one a lot more than I did. Take that for what it’s worth.