Its a Hollywood legend that Walt Disney felt some sort of malevolent glee in killing Bambis mom, and what that animated death would do to the children who saw it. But thats only a legend.
P.L. Travers, the woman who wrote the glorious Mary Poppins, was a brittle, snobbish martinet and a humorless control freak. And thats a fact. Stay through the credits of Saving Mr. Banks and hear for yourself.
Emma Thompson brings Travers to prickly life in Saving Mr. Banks, Disneys amusingly testy and emotionally rich telling of Walt Disneys courtly struggles with the dismissive writer as he and his dream factory turned her Mary Poppins into one of the most beloved childrens musicals ever.
The courtship Tom Hanks plays patient, long-suffering Disney is not an easy one. She is in the habit of barging into the movie /TV/theme park moguls office. He is all charm and informality. He calls her Pam.
We meet Travers in London, her agent telling her she needs the money and must finally sell the screen rights to her most famous book.
Travers flies to Los Angeles and disapproves of everything. The flight, the scent in the air, the hotel.
Director John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side) keeps this courtship center stage, and tells the story of Walt figuring out why Travers (real name, Helen Lyndon Goff) is the way she is and what he can do to make this unpleasant and miserable woman happy. That discovery is in the films many flashbacks, to young Helen Goffs childhood in rural Australia, where her overwhelmed, worried mother (Ruth Wilson) was dependent on Helens father (Colin Farrell, very good), a drinking banker who would rather play with his kids than show up for work.
Hanks wears Walts moustache and comfortingly plays Walts Midwestern drawl (and smokers cough). Thompson plays Travers as a fairy godmother who has given up the sweet act to show her Cruella De Vil side. She is hilariously unpleasant, downright rude. But we, like Walt and her Disney-provided driver (Paul Giamatti), can sense that its all an act and that this pose has deep-rooted, painful underpinnings. Its a great performance and an exclamation point on Thompsons career.