How stubborn was Walt Disney? He spent 26 years wheedling Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers to sell him the film rights to her book. Travers thought he was a hack who would louse up her story with cartoon penguins. Walt thought she was a pest. And half a century after his magic nanny movie scored 13 Oscar nominations, his studio has polished up his heroic quest like a bronze of Alexander the Great liberating Egypt. Suck on that spoonful, old lady. Saving Mr. Banks, a fictionalized account of two weeks Travers spent on the lot in Burbank, is proof that Walt has thawed and secretly reclaimed Disney's reins. To play himself he's cast no less than Tom Hanks, America's dad. Hanks's Walt has a soft belly, a hard head, and the twang of a boy raised on a Missouri farm. Instead of out-arguing Travers's qualms, he simply smothers them in sugar. Against a charmer like that, Emma Thompson's tweedy Travers doesn't stand a chance, not that director John Lee Hancock gives her one. Audiences who love Disney's Mary Poppins are forced here to dislike its author, who loathes everything about it: the musical ditties, Dick Van Dyke, even Mr. Banks's mustache. Thompson's Travers is as unpleasant as a pine needle pillow. In reality, Travers was a feisty, stereotype-breaking bisexual — a single mom who adopted a baby in her 40s, studied Zen mediation, and published erotica. Now that's a character worth slapping onscreen, instead of this stiff stereotype. In a Hollywood where men still pen 85 percent of all films, there's something sour in a movie that roots against a woman who asserted her artistic control.
John Lee HancockEmma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Paul Giamatti, Jason Schwartzman, Bradley Whitford, Annie Rose Buckley, Ruth Wilson, B.J. Novak, Rachel Griffiths, Kathy BakerKelly Marcel, Sue SmithAlison Owen, Ian Collie, Philip SteuerWalt Disney Pictures