‘Saving Mr. Banks': The Reviews Are In

Does the film capture the old Disney magic, or is it also in need of saving?

Walt Disney was a filmmaking pioneer, but the founder of the world’s biggest entertainment empire has somehow never been the subject of a movie himself. That is, at least, until now.

“Saving Mr. Banks” tells the story of Disney’s (played by Tom Hanks) quest to turn “Mary Poppins” into a movie. The book’s author, P.L. Travers, refuses to give him the rights, and Disney sets out to convince her otherwise. Of course, most people know who wins that battle, so the movie gives us two parallel storylines to ramp up the drama, one about Disney’s and Travers’ rights struggle, the other focusing on Travers’ troubled childhood.

Emma Thompson has already been nominated for a Golden Globe for her portrayal as Travers, and the film boasts a supporting cast including Colin Farrell as Travers alcoholic father, Paul Giamatti as a very friendly driver, and Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak as the songwriting duo behind your favorite “Mary Poppins” melodies.

Is the first movie about Disney as much a classic as “Mary Poppins,” or does it fall short? Here’s what the critics are saying about the film, out Friday (December 13).

Emma Thompson Owns This Film

“There are other fine actors on screen, among them Tom Hanks as Disney and, in a fabricated role of a limo driver and horn-rimmed sounding board, Paul Giamatti. But Thompson’s the show. Each withering put-down, every jaundiced utterance, lands with a little ping. Then she makes you cry, by gum.” — Michael Phillips, The Chicago Tribune

Walt Disney: Your Friendly Neighborhood Corporate Mogul

“Mr. Hanks is a master of evocative facial hair, American regional accents and earnest likability. His Missouri twang, mellowed by the California sun, is as friendly and reassuring as the real Walt Disney’s used to be every Sunday night when he introduced his television broadcast. Usually preceded by an off-screen cough — a premonition of the lung cancer that would kill him a couple of years after the “Mary Poppins” premiere — Walt is less a mogul than a kind and reliable daddy. “— A.O. Scott, The New York Times

Expect More Fairy Tale Than Fact

“The film is uncomfortably plagued by its own looming legacy — the real-life P.L. Travers, who was apparently a lot more than just a pill, notoriously hated the film version of her beloved book (especially all that damn animation) to the point that she never allowed Disney to make another film about their beloved Mary Poppins — a hard fact that dilutes some of the feature’s prodigious power. As a fairy tale in its own right, however, ’Saving Mr. Banks’ works, and works damn well. Consider it a feature about preventing heartache and denial in the world, complete with a misunderstood villain and a magical wizard, and the film zips right by in a totally pleasing manner.” — Kate Erbland, Film.com

A Tale of Two Stories

“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.” — Joshua Rothkopf, Time Out New York

In The End, It’s Just Good Old-Fashioned Fun

“But 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.” — Scott Foundas, Variety