Saving Mr. Banks is the movie version of how the (apparently awful) P.L. Travers gave Walt Disney and his writers holy hell before she would allow them to turn her Mary Poppins novels into a film. It’s a sentimental re-invention of the true story, but it works. Sweet, good-natured, gentle and uplifting, the movie basically makes the argument that all of life should be rewritten as a Disney musical. There’s some truth to this, and the film gets at it.
As with so many films this year, the performances are unbelievably great. Emma Thompson humanizes Travers — no small thing, given her character. Colin Farrell is touching as her disastrously alcoholic father. And Paul Giamatti is absolutely wonderful in the role of her lovable chauffeur.
But after watching this and Captain Phillips in short order, I have to say: Tom Hanks may be the greatest actor/movie star of his generation. He takes the role of Walt Disney and goes right to the heart of the American self-made man. Upbeat but hardboiled, generous but also relentless, Hanks’ Disney has a deep understanding of the sources of his own success and he uses that understanding to bring others to success as well. Optimistic without being blind, he can reflect on his pain at the same time he celebrates his achievement. It may be fair to say the Disney Corporation is hagiographizing its founder here — okay. But Hanks does something so deep with the character it becomes a comment on America itself — a comment that is positive without being sentimental or dishonest. It’s a case of an American treasure portraying an American treasure.
I won’t argue that this is a great film, but it’s good heartfelt entertainment with wonderful performances. Nice holiday- or even post-holiday viewing.