Saving Mr Banks

Year: 2013
Studio: Disney
Director: John Lee Hooker
Producer: Sue Smith/Kelly Marcel
Writer: Ian Collie/Alison Owen/Philip Steuer
Cast: Tom Hanks, Emma Thompson, Colin Farrell, BJ Novak, Jason Schwartzmann, Bradley Whitford, Paul Giamatti, Rachel Griffiths

There was no chance this movie would be made in today's world without charges of sanitising history being levelled. Some people wouldn't be satisfied unless Walt Disney was dressed in a swastika chaining staff to their desks to be flogged. For one thing, it was created by the company that bears his name, so the scene where Travers (Thompson) walks in on him smoking is the worst we're ever going to see Walt depicted.

But it also doesn't go as far in the other direction as you fear it will. In real life Travers is said to have hated what Disney did with the character of Mary Poppins till the day she died, and to the film's credit it doesn't show her laughing and singing along, converted and suddenly as in love as millions of children would be. When the animated penguins appear on screen with Dick Van Dyke, she scowls quietly to herself in the premiere audience at Hollywood's Chinese theatre.

The story also gives true history an interesting dimension in Travers' intent in writing Mary Poppins, which Disney finally figures out. When the story opens he's been pursuing her for years for the rights to adapt the Mary Poppins book, but the prickly and matronly Englishwoman has never agreed for fear of the kiddie spectacle it'll end up as.

When her publisher finally convinces her to travel to LA to at least see what Disney proposes rather than face bankruptcy, Disney goes to work on her softly. Whether it's filling her room at the Beverly Hills Hotel with stuffed Disney characters and gifts or giving her unparalleled access to screenwriter Don DeGradi (Whitford) and Disney's go-to songwriters the Sherman brothers (B J Novak and Jason Schwartzmann) for script approval, he knows Travers holds all the cards.

And all the while she drives DiGardi and the Shermans insane with her ridiculous demands and input (the final credits roll over a recording of the real Travers speaking, as she insisted all the sessions were recorded), we see her life as a girl in rural Australia, the truth Disney is looking for takes shape.

The flashbacks tell the story of her loving, storytelling but alcoholic father Travers Goff (Farrell, the latest in a long line of actors who fail at an Australian accent), gradually losing grip on the ability to take care of his family as he loses one job after another.

If the title doesn't give you the clue about what Travers considers to be Mary Poppins' real point, the young Pamela grows up facing the life she transposes to the Banks children in her books, right down to the no nonsense nanny who comes to the Goff home (Rachel Griffiths).

As always, it's a treat seeing talented actors play real people and even though Hanks looks nothing like Disney, he does a delightful facsimile of him (and isn't on screen as much as you expect). It is a little sacchariney, but it's never overpowering, and it's probably the most honest and gritty this story could ever be. It's more 'Taking Tea With Mrs Travers' than it is 'The Battle Over Mary Poppins'.

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