‘Saving Mr. Banks’ is charming, even if the backstory is all too tidy

Contributed
Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks in ‘Saving Mr. Banks.’ Rated PG-13, 125 min. Walt Disney Studios, 2013.

“Saving Mr. Banks” feels a bit like a love song that Disney has written to itself, but the filmmakers are still able to evoke some real emotion in this behind-the-scenes tale of the making of “Mary Poppins” in the early 1960s.

If you were looking forward to seeing Tom Hanks star in a biography of Walt Disney, this is not that film. He plays the animation legend with good humor and respect, but very little depth, since the story is really all about P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson), the author whom Disney persuades to sign over film rights to her books.

Nearly half of the film is composed of flashbacks to Travers’ difficult childhood in Australia with an unpredictable, alcoholic father (Colin Farrell) and a desperate mother (Ruth Wilson). These heavy-handed sequences grow tiresome, and start to feel like they are keeping you away from the more dynamic action going on in the Disney studio. Comedy flows from Travers snapping at the scriptwriter (Bradley Whitford) and songwriters (B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman), but Thompson excels at somehow making her bitter, often-nasty character sympathetic.

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