‘Saving Mr. Banks’
Starring: Tom Hanks, Emma Thompson, Bradley Whitford, B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman
Rated: PG-13, for thematic elements including some unsettling images
Running time: 2 hours
Bottom line: Shameless Disney tripe
“Saving Mr. Banks” is Disney’s latest attempt to tug at our wide-eyed hearts, but there isn’t enough sugar in the world to make this medicine go down.
With apologies to every actor in the film, all of whom perform wonderfully, this is perhaps the most crass, mean-spirited, propagandistic release in Disney’s storied history — precisely because this is once again Disney rewriting its own history and exploiting P.L. Travers, creator of “Mary Poppins,” for a second time.
Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) tried for 20 years to convince Travers (Emma Thompson) to let his studio adapt “Mary Poppins” for the big screen.
Finally worn down by financial necessity, Travers relented and worked with Disney’s writers (here played winningly by Bradley Whitford, B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman) to develop the film.
“Saving Mr. Banks” presents Travers as the antagonist, a priggish, British killjoy who stands in the way of Walt fulfilling a promise to his daughters.
Travers is written as a thoroughly insufferable character. All credit for making her sympathetic at all goes to Thompson, who miraculously finds the woman’s humanity in spite of the script.
There is something bullying and violent in the mere portrayal of Travers.
How dare she want to protect her characters, which obviously meant so much to her? How dare she not acknowledge the magic of Disney? How dare this woman throw a cog in the masculine Disney profit machine?
Make no mistake: This is not about Walt’s promise to his daughters.
“Saving Mr. Banks” serves to perpetuate the Disney myth and maintain its brand.
Normally, I have no problem with that proven Disney strategy (and for the record, I love a great number of the company’s movies).
But almost nothing in this movie is true, and it inflicts libel upon Travers even as it claims to pay tribute to her.
The real Travers felt so mistreated by Disney Corp. and hated the finished product so much she refused to allow Disney to adapt another of her works.
The film, though, represents “Mary Poppins” as a means for Travers to work through childhood trauma.
When “Mary Poppins” was adapted into a stage musical in London years later, she insisted that only English writers be employed, to ensure the Sherman brothers, who wrote the music for the film, could not work on it.
In “Saving Mr. Banks,” the Sherman brothers’ music is the primary weapon that destroys Travers’ resistance.
One scene has Walt identifying with Travers. He confides in Richard Sherman (Schwartzman) that he understands how she feels because he had to make the same choice years earlier about Mickey Mouse.
Producer Pat Powers wanted the rights to Mickey. Walt says, “I was just a kid from Missouri with a sketch of Mickey. It would’ve killed me to give him up. Honest to God it would have killed me. That mouse is family.”
Gee, that’s touching. It’s also balderdash.
Walt had operated the Laugh-O-Gram company for several years (and had already cycled through two trademark characters) prior to contracting with Powers to distribute his new company’s movies in 1928.
Walt’s chief animator, Ub Iwerks, had just saved Walt’s career by creating Mickey Mouse.
Iwerks, feeling undervalued and mistreated by his old friend Walt, left Disney in 1930 when Powers gave him the chance to start his own studio.
Regardless when the movie’s touching little tale was supposed to happen, it doesn’t pass the sniff test.
The only compelling part of the movie is discovering why the characters mean so much to Travers, and even that is distasteful since we are delving into Travers’ private life against her will.
You may be won over by “Saving Mr. Banks.” Others certainly have been.
But at least enjoy the movie knowing you are watching fiction.
And if you are a fan of “Mary Poppins,” at least honor the memory of its creator by remembering “Saving Mr. Banks” bears no resemblance to the real story whatsoever.
Jeff Marker is head of the Communication, Media & Journalism Department at the University of North Georgia. His reviews appear weekly in Get Out.