Everyone knows how the story is supposed to go: an author writes a bestseller, a film studio acquires the rights, and hey, presto: bestseller becomes blockbuster. Sometimes, though, getting to that point isn't so simple, and Saving Mr Banks brings us behind the scenes of some very tricky negotiations - Walt Disney's efforts to secure the Mary Poppins film rights from her creator, P.L Travers, (Mrs.)
Although of course, that's not entirely true. We're actually behind the scenes of negotiations scripted beautifully for the characters of Walt Disney and Mrs Travers, with several layers of adaptation at work behind them.
The filmmakers, who had access to the originals of the recorded conversations featured in the film, have freely admitted that their P.L is a spoonful-of-sugar creation herself, because likeability could otherwise have been an issue. It does seem everyone who worked with her thought Mrs Travers a cantankerous old b., but the film comes up with reasons and excuses for her behaviour, (otherwise known as flashbacks,) rather than actually delving in to the frequently exclaimed fact that for twenty odd years Disney pursued her relentlessly, refused to take no for an answer - and that when he'd finally backed her into a corner, either overruled or ignored her final conditions to the sale. Now who's "difficult"?
But they had a script, the purpose of which is to become a film, and the other half of the equation is that although Saving Mr Banks was written independently, the only studio that could possibly have made it was Disney. So, while there's an impressive amount of attempting-to-be-true-to-life leniency with their iconic founder's image, (Disney smoked!) it's obvious we're getting a toned down, shaped up, family friendly image here, too.
Frequent moments of comic gold are mined by Emma Thompson's prickly P.L Travers, a fish out of water who's trying to cope by depriving the other fish of water, too. Tom Hanks injects Disney with just a little too much affability to really be a good guy, which is a nice touch, hinting at deeper conflicts. All in all, though, this is a romp, and enjoyable as such: everybody's favourite film about everybody's favourite magical nanny!
Hollywood does tend to get its own way a lot of the time. For a dark, gloriously cynical look at a writer lured to his destruction in the City of Angels, get sucked into the world of Barton Fink, an early classic from the Coen Brothers.