Pamela Powell, movie reviewer for The Daily Journal, says 2 1/2 out of 4 stars.
"Saving Mr. Banks" is set in 1961, when Pamela L. Travers (Emma Thompson), author of the renowned children's book "Mary Poppins," finds herself needing money in order to maintain her modest lifestyle in London. Her publicist pushes her into flying to Los Angeles to meet with Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) and finalize a long-overdue plan to transform her book into a feature film. Travers, not a fan of the Disney concept, reluctantly agrees to work on a screenplay. What follows is a comedy of errors and insight into the world of this famed author.
The film has all the trademarks of a Disney movie: Perfectly set up shots, longing stares and attempts to tug at your heart-strings just a little too hard are all found in "Saving Mr. Banks." That's not to say it's not an enjoyable film. The story is well-told. We get wonderful insight into Travers uptight personality and why she acts the way she does. We learn about her imagination, her relationship with her parents as a young child and why she treats others in a rather cold and unfriendly way.
Then we have Walt Disney. He is just as one would picture him — kind, thoughtful and caring — just the opposite of Travers. Even those employed by Disney seem perfectly happy in their work environment, at least until the whirlwind personality named "Mrs. Travers" (Don't call her Pam or Pamela) strikes the office. Her curt, precise speech fits her perfectly as she lets those around her know they are beneath her. From the audience standpoint, it comes across rather humorously. As the film progresses, though,Travers softens, because, in large part, to her new-found relationships at Disney.
Thompson is the epitome of British properness. She is perfectly cast as Travers as she conveys a sense of ownership of the imaginary characters she has created, allowing the audience to understand her reluctance to let Disney tamper with them. Hanks looks and sounds like Disney. He comes across as sweet and sincere in his desire to bring love and laughter to children everywhere. Colin Farrell plays Travers' father in flashbacks as a loving, but unreliable drunk. His close relationship with his young daughter (played by Annie Rose Buckley) is believable and touching.
The most enjoyable parts of the movie are Paul Giamatti as the limo driver and Jason Schwartzman, Bradley Whitford and B.J. Novak as the threesome who try to convince Travers that "Mary Poppins" can be a musical. All are quite entertaining with their interactions and expressions.
The film's script is concise, the deliveries genuine and the message gives us a complete story of the book's transformation into a film. Is it accurate? This is Hollywood and Disney, so your guess is as good as mine. The film isn't a documentary; it's a feature film, so just sit back and enjoy.
"Saving Mr. Banks" is a pleasant film about a famous author and her struggle to relinquish control of her coveted "Mary Poppins." It gives us insight into the conception of the book and who these characters truly are. While there are many laughs along the way, the film tries too hard to be touching. This is a family film that is appropriate for all ages, making it a destination at the movie theater this holiday season. It is a nice story with a Disney happy ending. But then, didn't you know it would be?