The Perfect Nanny: Saving Mr. Banks

12/04/2013 4:00 AM |

Saving Mr. Banks
Directed by John Lee Hancock

Setting aside for the moment the ample charms of a terrific cast and some behind-the-scenes storytelling that Disney aficionados will enjoy, this is a movie made by Disney about how lucky we all are to have one of its catalog titles. The studio’s 1964 adaptation of Mary Poppins took decades of finagling from Walt Disney himself (Tom Hanks) as he pleaded for the rights to the Poppins books by PL Travers (Emma Thompson); Saving Mr. Banks opens with a cash-strapped Travers journeying to Los Angeles, reluctantly submitting to a final push from Disney.

The author insists on being referred to as “Mrs. Travers” and that she’s “perfectly capable” (a favorite phrase) of helping herself, resisting any politeness or deference—except in creative matters, over which she expects complete control. For the creator of a magical nanny, Travers has little patience for magic or silliness, and the movie is most interesting when flashing back to her childhood, observing the Disney-Travers conflict contained within a single figure: her father (Colin Farrell), whose playful whimsy was at war with his alcoholic irresponsibility, which cried out for the imposition of order. Disney must figure out how to reconcile her conflicted feelings with the Disney version of her characters.

It’s nice to see Hanks relaxed and funny after his wrenching work in Captain Phillips, but his Disney doesn’t have much depth. He wants to make this movie, ostensibly for his own (unseen) kids, but in its tasteful idolatry, Saving Mr. Banks forgets actually to mount Disney’s argument for his desired changes—not, I suspect, because he didn’t have his reasons, but because this movie takes the artistic triumph of Mary Poppins as inherent. The endgame must be Travers feeling moved by the finished film, ignoring the inconvenience that the real-life author still didn’t much like it. In its way, the film is as obstinate about Disney magic as Travers is about her book.

Opens December 13