‘Mr. Banks’ tells ‘Poppins’ backstory with charm

Oh “Saving Mr. Banks,” I’ll be honest — you had me at “Let’s Go Fly a Kite.”

Critical standards tend to melt when put in proximity of that joyful song from “Mary Poppins,” which turns up about halfway through this new behind-the-scenes Disney production.

This amiable, somewhat whitewashed true story describes the way the already-kinglike Walt Disney (played by Tom Hanks) finally closed the deal with the author of “Mary Poppins,” the sourpuss British writer P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson).

For 20 years — no kidding — Travers resisted Disney’s offers to adapt her beloved literary character for a movie.

“Saving Mr. Banks” begins in 1961, with Travers journeying to Hollywood, still having not signed away the rights to her story. She sits in a room with a screenwriter (Bradley Whitford) and the Sherman brothers songwriting team (Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak), as they page through the script. She torpedoes most of their ideas.

This really happened. Travers hated “jollification” and was horrified that Disney was planning an animated sequence for the movie. She was also dead-set against putting songs in it, which is where “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” comes in.

In one giddy scene, her collaborators seduce her into loving the tune as they dance about the studio while Dick Sherman bangs out the music on the piano. (In real life, Travers remained annoyed about the movie, even if she did sign off on it.)

While Hanks does not look or sound like Walt Disney, he catches a foxy, childlike confidence about the man that becomes intriguing to watch. As for Emma Thompson, I have long held that it is hard for her to make a false move, and am glad to report that this is still true.

Screenwriters Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith hedge their bets by including lengthy flashbacks to Travers’ childhood in Australia. Raised by a loving but drunk father (Colin Farrell), Travers evidently had a nanny (Rachel Griffiths) who might’ve been a model for the future Mary Poppins.

This sets up parallels with the fatherly figure of Disney and also the fictional Mr. Banks in “Mary Poppins.” It’s a little too neat, but the charm factor is so high, you might not care.

Plus, director John Lee Hancock (“The Blind Side”) has some appreciation for little touches. I don’t know if Disney ever wandered into the studio at night and sat on the piano bench to softly sing along to “Feed the Birds,” but it does peg his little-boy personality — which was likely his strength and his weakness.

Despite the PG-13 rating (really?), this is a Disney movie all the way, soft and sweet. A spoonful of sugar, and no medicine included.

“Saving Mr. Banks” (3 stars)

The author (Emma Thompson) of “Mary Poppins” goes to visit Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) in 1961, trying to resist his offers to film her book. You know how that turned out, and the story behind the movie classic is shamelessly charming, despite its flaws.

Rated: PG-13, for language

Showing: Opening Dec. 19 at Adlerwood Mall, Cinebarre, Woodinville.

More in Life

From Jasper to Banff: A Canadian adventure in an RV

Jennifer Bardsley plans to take her family on two-week roadtrip through Canada in a tent trailer.

Skippers share sea stories at Marysville speaker series

The Bellingham couple will talk about charter cruises on the historic wooden vessel they rebuilt.

Anxiety, or chronic worry, is a growing problem

Paul Schoenfeld shares four approaches to help keep your anxiety from getting out of control.

Expo in Stanwood can help you get ready for the country

The Country Living Expo and Cattlemen’s Winterschool is set for Jan. 27 at the high school.

Find many of our region’s winter birds in the Skagit Valley

If you love birding, also check out these bird-related festivals, lectures and other events.

What’s new this year for travelers in England, Ireland

The nations are improving tourism infrastructures and adding exhibits to well-known sights.

Curries continues home-cooked Indian cuisine at new location

The restaurant, now located on Evergreen Way, also puts an Indian spin on Northwest cooking.

Megyn Kelly trashes Jane Fonda’s ‘poor-me routine’

Kelly defended her decision to ask Fonda about her history with plastic surgery last September.

Don Imus announces date of his radio show’s final episode

His contract was to end in December, but the syndicator of his show filed for bankruptcy last year.

Most Read