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Friday, 20 December 2013 00:00

'Saving Mr. Banks' balances the crisp and cute' + Video

'Saving Mr. Banks' balances the crisp and cute' movies.disney.com/saving-mr-banks
Written by Martha K. Baker
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  • Director: John L. Hancock
  • Dates: Opens Dec. 20, 2013

First, the confessions: I never read Mary Poppins. I giggled over those penguins when the movie first came out in 1964. I admit I was delighted at the thought that a nanny could save the day; in fact, I would have given anything to have had a nanny save my day as a child.

But I have not watched the film in ages, so imagine my surprise when, at a screening of "Saving Mr. Banks," the artful, sweet dive into the making of "Mary Poppins," I started to cry at the striking of the first chords for "Let's Go Fly a Kite." I pretty much cried the rest of the way through this film, which tells you how deep a chord it can strike in even the most jaded critic and how well director John L. Hancock worked with this inside story.

"Saving Mr. Banks" is a process film, that is, the canny scriptwriters, Kelli Marcel and Sue Smith, reproduce the production of "Mary Poppins." For years, Walt Disney had wooed the book's author, P.L. Travers, to bring Mary Poppins to the screen, a promise he'd made to his daughters (his daughter Diane died just last month). Travers does not want to turn loose of Mary Poppins any more than Disney had wanted to turn loose of Mickey Mouse, so he understands her possessive hesitation.

If "Saving Mr. Banks" were just about the tussle between a powerhouse producer and a cranky writer who needs his money, it would be delightful because both parties are confirmed in their stands. Moving mountains would have been easier. But "Saving Mr. Banks" visits Travers' childhood in Australia, back and forth, from rehearsal room and hotel room to forlorn farm with a distressed mother and an optimistic, alcoholic father.

Colin Farrell plays Travers' father, delightfully, and Ruth Wilson her mother. Annie Buckley enchants as young P.L. Travers. Rachel Griffiths plays Travers' aunt with a resemblance to a certain carpet bag-wagging nanny,. The Disney cast includes Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak as the song-writing Shermans, and Bradley Whitford is the head of the production team, with Kathy Baker as a secretary and Paul Giamatti as Ralph, the kindly chauffeur.

But Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson own this movie. Hanks is the avuncular Uncle Walt, and Thompson, who's had a turn or two at being a nanny, embodies P.L. Travers. She spits out her lines like medicinal castor oil. No, she says when Disney offers to escort her through Disneyland, a happy place, "I will not go to that dollar-printing machine." Thompson's face -- its every moue and grinch -- controls every scene, and her body is a mannequin of propriety.

"Saving Mr. Banks" is brilliant from start to finish -- but take a hanky and a heart. 

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