For those who wonder how movies get made, this is the untold backstory of Walt Disney's 20-year struggle to convince prim `n' proper novelist P.L. Travers to allow him to produce "Mary Poppins." No fan of films, particularly "silly" Disney cartoons, prickly Mrs. Travers (Emma Thompson) has adamantly refused even to consider allowing Mr. Disney access to her beloved magical nanny.
But finances are running short, and she has a London home to maintain. So in 1961, she reluctantly agrees to go to Los Angeles for two weeks to discuss plans for a screen adaptation.
A culture clash commences as soon as the solicitous studio chauffeur (Paul Giamatti) meets brusque Mrs. Travers at the airport and delivers her to the posh Beverly Hills Hotel, where she's appalled to discover a Disney toy menagerie waiting in her suite. Things go from bad to worse during spoonful-of-sugar meetings with Walt (Tom Hanks), screenwriter Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford) and the songwriting Sherman brothers (Jason Schwartzman, B.J. Novak) with irritable Travers growing more defiantly stubborn until, eventually, persuasive Walt figures out what the real problems are.
Screenwriters Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith were inspired by true events, so director John Lee Hancock ("The Blind Side," "The Rookie") inter-cuts revelatory scenes from Travers' (a.k.a. Helen Goff) formative childhood in rural Australia. It's an astute structural device that reveals young Helen's (Annie Rose) poignant devotion to her charismatic, wildly imaginative, alcoholic father (Colin Farrell), an erstwhile banker who doted on her and her sisters.
Adroit production designer Michael Corenblith not only recreates the 1906 Outback but also Burbank's Disney Studios in the 1960s.
Exuding charm, Hanks captures folksy Walt's shrewd devotion to syrupy story-
Thompson does a flat-out fabulous job, tossing off wry zingers like Bette Davis. Her timing is wonderful, her expressions priceless. And the supporting cast is terrific.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Saving Mr. Banks" is an irresistibly enchanting, high-spirited 9 -- with whimsical glimpses of the joyous 1964 classic, for which Julie Andrews won an Oscar.