Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson in ’Saving Mr. Banks’
Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson in 'Saving Mr. Banks'

Saving Mr. Banks is essentially a propaganda film, but an undoubtedly effective one at that.

It should come as no surprise that a movie produced by Walt Disney Pictures would portray the 1960s version of itself as an electric bed of style and creativity, where every blade of grass is immaculate and where fresh-faced songwriters like the Sherman brothers (played by B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman) conjure hit songs out of thin air.

It's also no surprise that Walt Disney the man (played by a mustached Tom Hanks) comes off as a charming, godlike animation genius, whose only fault is that he'd rather give out pre-signed autographs at Disneyland instead of signing impromptu ones himself.

Tom Hanks in ’Saving Mr. Banks’
Tom Hanks in 'Saving Mr. Banks'

But he's actually not the star of this show (in fact, he's in it far less than you might expect). That honor belongs to P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson), the prim and prickly author whom Disney courted for 20 years to obtain the film rights to her popular book series, Mary Poppins.

Travers doesn't like nonsense, Los Angeles, animation, Dick Van Dyke -- OK, she doesn't like most things. Even after agreeing, out of her own dwindling finances, to review a screenplay and treatment for a potential film version of her books, Travers bristles at even the most minute changes to her beloved characters and story.

She hates how well-off the family is in the movie. She hates Mr. Banks' mustache. She hates how mean Mr. Banks is to his children. The Shermans and screenwriter Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford) hesitate to even bring up "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" to Travers, who scoffs at their explanation that it's a word to say "when you don't know what to say."

"But I always know what to say," says Travers.

Thompson, in one of the year's best performances, lets the author's guilt-ridden melancholy seep out of her tightly-wound exterior. Through flashback sequences involving Travers' drunk father (Colin Farrell) that she idolized as a child, her trepidation to change her characters becomes clearer, since her life -- or her perfect solution to her previously tragic life -- is all in those pages.

Grade: A-

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

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