Begged by his daughters to bring their favourite series Mary Poppins alive on the silver screen, Walt Disney takes up an onerous task - wooing its uncompromising author PL Travers to part with the rights. Tom Hanks' Disney turns on his charm but the curmudgeonly Travers, played with bitter-sweet honesty by Emma Thompson, resists.
While she is suspicious of Hollywood machine, her resistance is explained by her backstory in Australia, inhabitated by a suicidal mother and an alcoholic but loving father. A cathartic climax is achieved when Disney dives into his own traumatic childhood.
The film, which is actually the story of acquiring rights for another film -- the blockbuster Mary Poppins with its chartbuster A spoonful of sugar -- is pleasant but drags in parts.
Says Rene Rodriguez of Miami Herald, "Saving Mr Banks is two movies crammed into one cumbersome, overlong drama. The good half is set in Burbank in 1961, when Walt Disney, after 20 years of requests, finally gets author PL Travers to travel from London and visit the studio to consider signing over the film rights to her beloved Mary Poppins book series."
With its story going back to the original hit, it fails to hold the interest of youngsters. "Saving Mr Banks is a perfectly pleasant little movie, but don't bring the kids. Not that anything racy goes on -- this is a film about the making of Mary Poppins, after all. But it's hard to imagine most youngsters getting excited about a movie involving the making of an old movie," says Tom Long of The Detroit News.
Dana Stevens of Slate.com is also unenthused by the movie, "For a movie that's all about what a swell idea it was to adapt Mary Poppins for the screen, Saving Mr Banks seems remarkably uninterested in what made the movie special."
While Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson come in for praise for their performances, the characters could have been more rounded and personalised.
As François Duhamel of Washington Post puts it, "The irresistible force to her unmovable object is Tom Hanks, whose Walt Disney is all soft-spoken Midwestern manipulation, unctuous and shrewd in equal parts."
Rodriguez has a mixed opinion of Thompson's Travers, "I wish Thompson would have had a little more fun with her portrayal of Travers - there's no humour in her flintiness, no sass to her constant dissatisfaction… but Thompson does manage to make Travers into a fascinating person - a woman who refuses to compromise, even if it means losing everything, and doesn't care whom she offends in the process."
Talking about how their characters have been presented, Stevens writes, "Hanks' avuncular Disney and Thompson's prim, fussy Travers are too idealised and bland to strike sparks either off one another or in the viewer's imagination. Their characters lack that tincture of real-life bitterness that would help us to choke down this giant spoonful of sugar."