Yes, Tom Hanks is his likable self as Walt Disney, who’s been trying for 20-years to get “Mary Poppins” turned into a movie. Yes, Emma Thompson is fantastic as P.L. Travers, the reserved author, so much so she’ll probably get an Oscar nomination. But that, like the film itself, is nothing new.
The only interesting bits of “Banks” are when Travers works with screenwriter Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford) and composers Richard Sherman (Jason Schwartzman) and Robert Sherman (B.J. Novak). Seeing the clash between the individual nature of writing versus the collaborative nature of filmmaking is lots of fun, even if the film is misguided in its attempts to make Travers look completely ridiculous and in the wrong.
“Banks” tries to portray Travers as wacky or outlandish, but “Mary Poppins” is her baby. Are some of her demands outlandish? Absolutely. But she, and she alone, created the novels. That character was born out of hardships Travers endured as a child in Australia, which half of “Banks” focuses on to little reward. When writing a novel, especially a series, those characters live inside of you. They’re real. Of course she’s going to be over-protective, especially when adapting a book into a movie brings with it all sorts of traps and pitfalls that can leave the film a shell of its source material (see “Bonfire of the Vanities” or even “Mary Poppins”). Ask Stephen King how he felt about the changes Stanley Kubrick made to “The Shining.” Yes, it’s one of the finest horror films ever made, but we didn’t write it. King did. To this day, he still doesn’t consider it a good adaptation of his novel.
Obviously, the moral of the story is don’t let your books be turned into movies, but that’s a difficult decision to make. Authors, like Travers are inundated with lies from producers, telling them they’ll be faithful to the source material while dangling six-figure paychecks in front of the writers. It’s an irresistible combination, especially since movies increase book sales. As sweet and sappy as “Saving Mr. Banks” likes to get, it completely misses the point about the relationship between creation and creator, but that’s nothing new in Hollywood.