Movie review: A spoonful of sugar helps 'Saving Mr. Banks' fly

For the News-DemocratDecember 19, 2013 

What It's About

An entertaining look into the rich-in-drama making of the innovative Disney musical "Mary Poppins," "Saving Mr. Banks" shows that Walt sure did have a challenge on his hands.

Pamela "PJ" Travers (Emma Thompson) is the particular, prickly author who can't be swayed by Walt's folksy Midwestern charm, nor softened by sunny southern California or the talented Disney staffers.

In a surprisingly poignant way, her painful childhood in Australia is depicted to show her scars. Walt finally unlocks the mystery and gets to make his movie.

Performances

An exquisite portrayal by Thompson grounds the movie, thus not going too far in over-the-top sentimentality. She shows this tough woman's vulnerability, conveying her wounds from long ago,

Tom Hanks is a perfect foil as the affable Walt Disney, displaying both a sweet and sharp side as the legendary showman, infuriated by this uncompromising woman.

Jason Schwartzman ("Rushmore") and B. J. Novak ("The Office") are endearing as the exasperated songwriting Sherman brothers.

What Works

For people of a certain age, the film "Mary Poppins" has a special place in their hearts. And the filmmakers acknowledge that -- a delectable blend of inside showbiz and warm nostalgia.

Director John Lee Hancock ("The Blind Side") keeps things moving, and the film looks fabulous, evoking 1961 in tantalizing L.A.

Although sprinkled in Disney pixie dust, the film provides gentle humor and meticulous attention to detail that's very appealing. The script by Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith is superbly crafted, one of the year's best efforts.

What Doesn't Work

The flashbacks dwell on Travers' family troubles in a repetitive way -- you figure out what's happening rather quickly.

Overall, this genial crowd-pleaser tells a fascinating story very well.

4 stars out of 4

Director: John Lee Hancock

Starring: Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Colin Farrell, Jason Schwartman, B.J. Novak, Bradley Whitford, Paul Giamatti

Length: 2:05

Rated: Rated PG-13 for thematic elements including some unsettling images

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