Stiff-backed Pamela Lyndon Travers (Emma Thompson, a starchy riot), the creator of Mary Poppins, arrives in Hollywood in 1961 to discover a giant, stuffed Mickey Mouse on her hotel pillow. What studio is going to make a movie about getting into bed (literally) with Disney than Disney itself? Saving Mr. Banks turns Travers’s tense collaboration with Walt (Tom Hanks) and his team of Imagineers into—naturally—a schmaltzy journey of closure, climaxing in a teary screening of the finished musical.
Like Julie & Julia, the movie toggles between two imbalanced halves: Every time it cuts away to Travers’s dreamlike Australian girlhood and alcoholic dad (Colin Farrell), you wish you were back on the lot, watching her argue with chirpy song composers and the impulses of commercialization. (Seriously, animated penguins?) No need to mention which side prevails—it’s a small world, after all. But for a while, you can enjoyably ally yourself with a cynical foot-dragger.
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