‘Saving Mr. Banks’ breaks fourth wall; Disney reveals past

Here’s something I’m not sure anyone would have expected: a Disney film about the making of a Disney film. And it’s not just any Disney film, but “Mary Poppins,” well known as one of Walt Disney’s best.

Yet it is also a good idea, since the story behind Disney and company getting the rights to the source material by author P.L. Travers is an interesting one. That story is told in “Saving Mr. Banks.”

The film takes place primarily in the early 1960s. Emma Thompson stars as P.L. Travers, uthor of the popular “Mary Poppins” books, which Disney, portrayed by Tom Hanks, has been trying to obtain the rights to for years so he can produce a film adaptation.

For 20 years, Travers has resisted the idea because she isn’t a fan of Disney. But now, she’s struggling financially and feels she has no choice but to agree to let Disney make the “Mary Poppins” film.

She travels from London to Los Angeles to meet and negotiate with Disney; the songwriting Sherman brothers, portrayed by Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak; and the writer Don DaGradi, portrayed by Bradley Whitford.

But each session tests her patience, as she doesn’t always agree with their decisions. They come to compromises – sometimes to her disdain – and Disney tries to open Travers’ heart to what magic he has to offer.

The story is intercut with the rougher edges of the film, which occur in flashback sequences in which Travers, living in Australia, deals with the sickness of her father, portrayed by Colin Farrell, dying from alcoholism. In these sequences, we see where Travers got the idea for most of the characters and events in her books.

The combination of light and darkness is suitable for giving the audience an understanding for why Travers feels the way she feels about certain things occurring now. And because of the flashbacks, we also have a complete portrait of P.L. Travers, seeing her as a child, portrayed by Annie Rose Buckley, and as a middle-aged woman, portrayed by Thompson.

Thompson carries the movie. Her performance as P.L. Travers is definitely spot-on. She plays a stubborn woman with a troubled past, as well as a writer who loves her characters too much to see them ruined.

The surprise performance came from Hanks.

I didn’t know how well he would portray Uncle Walt himself, but he managed to project the right amount of optimism and happiness to remind the audience of the late Hollywood titan.

Those who know the story beforehand may have a bit of an issue with the ending of “Saving Mr. Banks.” But, I see it as an “on the one hand/on the other hand” resolution. For those with a soft spot for “Mary Poppins,” “Saving Mr. Banks” is a treasure.

For those who are interested in the collaborative process in a movie studio, it’s also a treasure. And of course that can also be said for those who are straight-up Disney fans.

I can relate to all three. I loved “Saving Mr. Banks.” It’s solidly-acted, entertaining, has an effective balance of comedy and drama and for lack of a better term, is “Disney magic.”

“Saving Mr. Banks” is rated PG-13 for thematic elements including some unsettling images, and is playing at Cinemark Town Centre in Conway.

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