When Walt Disney met author P.L. Travers to obtain the rights to her book Mary Poppins, something unexpected took place. The new film Saving Mr. Banks by director John Lee Hancock explores the unique relationship between two timeless creative forces. Tom Hanks plays Mr. Disney with a disarmingly gentle touch, boasting and smirking his way through every scene. However, Emma Thompson steals the show, filling P.L. Travers with subtle frailty and icy wit.
The film shines with every moment that features Disney and Travers butting personal and creative heads. Together, the pair lights up the screen with refined precision and vintage charm. Nearly half of the film takes place in Hollywood in the early 1960s as Travers flies to Los Angeles to settle her legal affairs with Disney once and for all. The second half intercuts flashbacks to Australia at the turn of the century where a young Travers wrestles with her alcoholic father played by Colin Farrell. These scenes are essential as they uncover the true inspiration for the story of Mary Poppins; yet, fall flat resorting to overly-polished sentiment and threadbare childhood angst.
The most significant moment of the film comes at the end, unveiling its many layers long after the final credits roll. As the title suggests, Travers and audiences alike desperately want Mr. Banks to be saved. Luckily, Walt Disney and his empire specialize in happy endings with a long list of childhood classics to its name. Ultimately however, the film soars to new heights as it questions our human desire to get a happy ending even if we know life turns out to be anything but.