I went to see the movie because two of the finest living actors that I can think of were in it. Tom Hanks playing Walt Disney was a bit of a stretch, but by the end of the movie Walt Disney was sitting in the movie theatre at the premier of Mary Poppins and sitting just in front of that legend sat the real P.L. Travers, played by the astonishing Emma Thompson, tears streaming down her face as she one last time relived the childhood that caused her to create Mary Poppins. Mary Poppins came not for the children but to redeem...to save their father, Mr. Banks. The story is built on the idea that Helen Hoff, the real name of P.L. Travers, lived a hard life in her native Australia as the daughter of an alcoholic banker who was dying of tuberculosis and had given up his dreamer nature to become a bank manager. It is at once a sad and whimsical story of an author who created an immortal character who would bring great change whenever the wind would change directions. Travers loved her father, a whimsical man. Her pen name was actually his first name, Travers Hoff.
The movie draws us in to the world of Walt Disney, business man and something of a charming huckster and the world of P.L. Travers, a demanding and difficult human. I had discussed with a friend that it was "based on a true story." A friend told me, and rightly so, that Hollywood relies too much on that phrase. The "based on the true story" though was my term. Disney did not promote the movie as "based on" but as the true story. How much is actually dramatic license, I cannot say. What I do know, is that Mrs. Travers, as she demanded she be called even though she never married, insisted that all meetings during her time in Hollywood be taped. During the credits, one of the tapes is played of one of those meetings and to say that Emma Thompson became Mrs. Travers is an understatement.
In the middle of the legendary clash between Travers and Disney is her Hollywood driver, Ralph played by another gifted actor Paul Giamatti whose foil story of a simple man with a handicapped daughter shows us the other side of Mrs. Travers. It took Disney 20 years to convince Travers to let him bring the book to the screen. Saving Mr. Banks is credited as being a warts and all story. I defy you not to shed tears when Walt Disney tells his own Mr. Banks story which is then closely followed by the premier of Mary Poppins and P. L. Travers reaction to the Disney film. If you do not find yourself grinning in pure joy when Travers starts dancing to "Let's Go Fly a Kite," you are, indeed, a hard heated human.
Saving Mr. Banks is good film making. Saving Mr. Banks is a story worth telling. The cast, especially Emma Thompson, is superb. Go see it.