Review: Saving Mr Banks
Even though the sound of it is something quite atrocious and John Lee Hancox's (The Blind Side) direction offers one spoonful of sugar too many, this recreation of the wrangles between Walt Disney (an erudite Tom Hanks) and Mary Poppins author P L Travers (a spiky Emma Thompson) is a real crowd-pleasing entertainer.
Having been introduced to Travers' fictional nanny by his captivated young daughters, Disney was determined to get his woman. However, more than two decades after initially making contact with the British-based writer, he still hadn't managed to get her to sign over the rights.
A 1961 trip to Hollywood and a room full of Disney memorabilia represents a last ditch attempt by the impresario to woo her, but this lady is clearly not for turning. "I know what he's going to do to her," Travers opines. "She'll be cavorting, and twinkling, careening towards a happy ending like a kamikaze."
Introducing Travers to the screenwriter and, to her horror ("the books simply do not lend themselves to chirping"), the songwriting duo he has tasked with bringing her story to the big screen, Disney reluctantly agrees that she will have script approval and the film will not be animated.
However, she still has many concerns ("Dick Van Dyke is a horrid idea", "the entire script is flim-flam, where is the gravitas and sentiment?") and as the days drag into weeks Travers' demands become increasingly bizarre - "I don't want the colour red in the film."
Exasperated, Disney is at it his wits' end with this "woman of quite eye-watering complexity and contradiction" but all she offers him is that "disappointments are to the soul what a thunderstorm is to the air".
It's thanks to one of Travers' demands that we have this excellent film at all. She wanted all the discussions and negotiations recorded on tape and screenwriters Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith have used this invaluable archive to craft a fascinating insight into the tortured process that eventually resulted in the 1964 film. It also helps immensely that two acting titans face off as the "irresistible force and immovable object".
Hanks, a distant cousin of Disney, is a beautiful mix of charm and steely determination, while Thompson (who had a crack at her own fictional child-minder with the Nanny McPhee movies) takes what could have been a Disney-esque "evil queen" and gives her a tragic and sympathetic edge. The excellent supporting cast also includes Bradley Whitford (The West Wing), Jason Schwartzman (Rushmore), Paul Giamatti (Sideways) and Colin Farrell (Fright Night).
Some may bridle at the symbolically heavy-handed flashbacks to Travers' Australian youth and the film's overall knockabout tone, but quite frankly, they can go fly a kite.
Saving Mr Banks (PG) 125 mins
Sunday Star Times