It is very likely that if you were born in the twentieth century, you grew up with Disney. The creator of what is the most iconic animation studio in history, Walt Disney, was a visionary – he was an incredible artist that stands amongst Picasso, Van Gogh and Turner, and a ruthless businessman, who took his ideas and turned them into a huge entertainment empire. Then why is it that it took 86 years, from the first appearance of Mickey Mouse, for the genius of Walt Disney to come to our screens? I believe it would be impossible to tell the entire story of Walt Disney and his great mind, but there was one way we could get a glimpse into the man himself – through one of the strangest and most bitter battles in entertainment history – the complicated game of chess between Disney and P.L. Travers, the author of Mary Poppins.
This film extends more than the synopsis would imply – yes, it is about P.L. Travers being very reluctant to hand over the rights to her magnum opus, but it is much more complex than that. Travers was a complicated woman – she was more than just a nasty old curmudgeon fearing that Disney would destroy her most famous creation. It certainly feels this way at the outset, but as it goes on, we see beyond her nasty demeanor, Travers has a heart of gold, and her reasons for being very pedantic about the film adaptation is not without reason. She is given a great slice of humanity and even though she should be unlikable, she is very endearing and we grow attached to her.
Most of the success of Travers comes from Emma Thompson, who is absolutely breathtaking in the role. I have never stopped harping on about my adoration of Thompson, and I truly believe that she is one of the most wonderful and genuinely amazing actresses working today. She is quirky and lovable, and not only that – she is an incredible actress. Her performance as Travers is a revelation, as while the character is inherently unlikable, Thompson’s performance gives her an extreme amount of charm and humanity. Most other actresses would have trouble being even partially likable in the part, but Thompson brings a lot to the performance, and becomes a charming character we feel very much for. I have for the entire year thought the finest female performance of 2013 came from Cate Blanchett in the riveting Blue Jasmine, but I honestly feel that Emma Thompson was just as brilliant and could contend for that title as well.
Like I said above, Walt Disney has never been portrayed in film. So it only seems fitting that when casting the film, the producers went all out to get someone so absolutely perfect for the role – Tom Hanks. I believe no one else could possibly play Disney better than Hanks, who we all know is the world’s most beloved and trusted actor. His nice-guy charm and position as one of the greatest movie stars of all time make him a perfect fit for the role of Disney. It is perfect that a larger-than-life actor was cast as the titan Disney. Yet, it was more than just casting the personality that is Tom Hanks – they cast the actor, and he brought so much to the role. He became very meticulous in his portrayal, wearing the same clothing items, cutting his mustache to resemble Disney’s and becoming immersed in the role. At this point in his career, it would have been easy for Hanks to just phone it in, but he dedicated himself to the role, and while he didn’t garner much awards attention, he gave a performance suitable for the man himself.
Finally, because I can’t speak about this film without completing the trio of amazing performances, Colin Farrell really gave a great performance as Travers’ father. I was struck by how an actor I usually thought of as being a brainless action star was actually capable of a straightforward dramatic performance here in Saving Mr. Banks. He gives a raw, sensitive performance as the alcoholic but loving father to Travers. He truly dedicated himself to the performance, and gives such an amazing performance, I only hope he continues to pursue these types of movies that allow him to show off the talents he has instead of wasting them away in low-brow action movies.
I feared Saving Mr. Banks would be overly sentimental and self-indulgent. After all, it came from the same director who made The Blind Side and other sentimental movies. It does have moments of incredibly raw emotion, and there are some moments where even the strongest person may cry a bit. It is a truly touching film.
Saving Mr. Banks was a wonderful surprise. I grew up with Disney, and even though the film didn’t concentrate on Walt Disney himself, it did give us some insight into the man and his process, but even more painted a picture of one of the most underrated children’s authors in history, and how even though her books became iconic and profitable, they were based in very true and emotional territory for her. Anyone who has ever created something that they feel a connection to will understand why it was so difficult for Travers to just give away her beloved stories, and how the right thing to do was to fight and make sure that what appeared on screen honored not only her books, but her family that gave her the inspiration.
A truly touching and absolutely wonderful (and often very funny) film.