Disney Gives Us (And Poor P.L. Travers) The Hard Sell In 'Saving Mr. Banks'
It probably comes off as cheap cynicism to immediately dismiss any Disney film as a commodity or product, but it's fair game when one of their own executives bandies about the term "brand deposit" to describe the work in question. You won't be surprised to learn that their holiday offering is merely a self-serving work that offers a distorted version of reality in an effort to push the Disney Agenda.
Tom Hanks wears a Walt Disney mask in Saving Mr. Banks in what is being touted as the first time The Man Behind the Mouse has been depicted in one of their own films. Don't be fooled into thinking this is some sort of daring stunt by the studio. It is merely another role in a long tradition of Tom Hanks playing uncomplicated and likeable men (whether or not that has any basis in historical reality). Walt Disney's greatest sins in Saving Mr. Banks are knocking back a few nightcaps, trying to hide his smoking habit, and being overbearingly persistent. Opposite Hanks in a supreme waste of talent is Emma Thompson portraying Mary Poppins creator P.L. Travers as a caricature more cartoonish than anything Disney ever put on the screen to date.
"I won't have her turned into one of your silly cartoons" she defensively tells Walt Disney of her pet creation Mary Poppins—ironic that Travers herself has been turned into a comically uptight British spinster in Saving Mr. Banks. The film cuts back and forth between Disney Studios, 1961 and the Australian countryside, 1907 where the flashbacks of Travers' childhood reveals the trauma of an alcoholic father who died too young (Colin Farrell) that apparently provides the inspiration for her most famous work.
Nearly all of the two hour runtime of the film are spent showing Walt Disney's struggle with wrangling over the rights from P.L. Travers in order to adapt Mary Poppins to film. In a moment that has more subtext than any of the flashback sequences, Walt Disney relates to Travers' trepidation over signing over the rights to her work. At a late night rehearsal session with the Sherman Brothers (charmingly portrayed by Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak), he confides to them that he couldn't give away his beloved Mickey Mouse early in his career because, "The Mouse is family." Over half a century later, this remains true with a little help from friends in high places. The audience is never in suspense over the outcome of this conflict, but what is never truly revealed is any actual deciding motivation on Travers' part aside from succumbing to Disney's apparent charm. Saving Mr. Banks is ultimately a corporate statement that their vision of stories for children are the most ideal.
When P.L. Travers first arrives at her hotel room at the Beverly Hills Hotel, she is shocked at the furnishings that greet her as soon as she opens the door. Balloons, fruit baskets, and, most appalling to her, all manners of stuffed animals of the beloved Disney cast of characters adorn her home for the next two weeks and cover nearly every inch of the space—Disney at its most grotesquely in-your-face. For a brief moment, I was right in tune with the film.
Saving Mr. Banks opens in theaters in New York and Los Angeles today.