Entertainment & Arts

Saving Mr Banks: what the critics said

Tom Hanks as Walt Disney and Emma Thompson as author PL Travers in Saving Mr Banks
Image caption Tom Hanks as Walt Disney and Emma Thompson as author PL Travers in Saving Mr Banks

Emma Thompson plays Mary Poppins creator PL Travers in Saving Mr Banks, which closed the London Film Festival on Sunday.

It co-stars Tom Hanks as Walt Disney, in the story of Disney's long battle to buy the rights to the much-loved book, which was eventually turned into a musical starring Julie Andrews in 1964.

Directed by The Blind Side's John Lee Hancock, the film takes us back into Travers' troubled childhood using frequent flashbacks to the Australian outback where she grew up.

Saving Mr Banks is released on 29 November, but here is what the critics have been making of it:

Kate Muir - The Times - 4 stars

Emma Thompson plays Mrs Travers, in a mesmerising and droll performance. Tom Hanks takes on the role of Disney, with a nailbrush moustache and unexpectedly gentle charm, his upbeat American optimism making Mrs Travers fit to burst with outrage in her buttoned-up tweed suit.

Disney's relentlessly cheerful campaign to charm her is a delight to watch, as is our knowing take on lines such as 'Dick Van Dyke? A horrid idea'. In all a charming comedy. Apart from the dancing penguins of course, which Mrs Travers loathed.

Read the full review here (subscription).

The Independent - 2 stars

The film is effective enough as a weepie. It boasts a fine performance from Thompson, who starts the movie in eccentric groove like a prickly version of Joyce Grenfell's Miss Gossage, but slowly and subtly reveals her character's vulnerabilities and complexities.

However, Saving Mr. Banks also feels sanitised and disingenuous. Although the idea was initially developed by BBC Films, this is the Disney version of how Disney made Mary Poppins.

Saving Mr. Banks is more a character study than a behind-the-scenes drama. Travers' character is rich and complex. The problem is that Hanks's Disney seems like a whitewash.

Read the full review here.

Peter Bradshaw - The Guardian - 3 stars

An enormous spoonful of sugar and the tiniest bit of medicine: it all goes down, just about. This is a warmly, in fact outrageously sentimental and self-congratulatory film from Disney about the master himself. Only a Disney film would have had the rights to the Mary Poppins clips and only a Disney film would have been permitted the possible lese-majesty of representing the great man on screen.

Saving Mr Banks is an indulgent, overlong picture which is always on the verge of becoming a mess. Thankfully, reliable old Tom Hanks snaps his fingers and - spit, spot - everything more or less gets cleared away.

Read the full review here.

David Gritten - The Telegraph - 4 stars

This clash (between Travers and Disney), with some of the real-life antagonism glossed over, has been reworked into a cat-and-mouse game that often resembles a seduction. Obviously, this gets played for laughs - many of them good ones. No opportunity is lost to highlight the differences in world-view between these two.

But it's Thompson as the heroically unbiddable Travers who makes the most of it; her bravura performance effectively dominates the film. Pitching her delivery somewhere between Nanny McPhee and Miss Jean Brodie, Thompson perfectly embodies Travers's air of disapproval and distaste.

Read the full review here .

Scott Foundas - Variety

Somewhere, Uncle Walt is smiling. Thick with affection for Hollywood's most literal "dream factory" and wry in its depiction of the studio filmmaking process, director John Lee Hancock's (film) should earn far more than tuppence from holiday audiences - and from awards voters who can scarcely resist this sort of mash note to the magic of movies (eg Argo, The Artist).

If 2007's Enchanted remains undisputed as the great, impish, postmodern riff on Disney iconography, Saving Mr Banks is the unapologetically retro valentine Disney himself might have made. It's a bit square, never particularly surprising, yet very rich in its sense of creative people and their spirit of self-reinvention - the Outback girl refashioned as a prim and proper British lady, the Missouri farm boy who turned himself into a cross between Peter Pan and the Wizard of Oz.

Read the full review here.

Leslie Felperin - The Hollywood Reporter

In a part once mooted for Meryl Streep, Emma Thompson takes charge of the central role of the waspish PL Travers with an authority that makes you wonder how anybody else could ever have been considered.

The twinkly-eyed, avuncular figure incarnated by a mustachioed Hanks - who only for a fleeting moment shows off a glower worthy of a mafia crime boss ordering a hit - couldn't be further from the negative analyses of Disney depicted in, say, Richard Schickel's scathing biography The Disney Version or the recent Philip Glass opera The Perfect American.

Some will no doubt call this a whitewash, but Saving Mr. Banks presents a grittier version of Disney than one might have expected 10 or even five years ago... Heck, they even show him smoking, and that's way worse than being an FBI informant these days.

Read the full review here.

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