Movie Review: ‘Saving Mr. Banks’ a different kind of Disney fairy tale

With another fine performance in “Saving Mr. Banks” to stand beside “Captain Phillips,” Tom Hanks just might become the fourth actor ever to get an Oscar nomination in both categories.

But this dandy film belongs to Emma Thompson.

Hanks plays Walt Disney to Thomson’s P.L. Travers – the woman who wrote “Mary Poppins” and who doesn’t want Disney turning her story into a modern fairy tale with characters “cavorting and twinkling and careening toward some happy ending.”

“These books simply do not loan themselves to dancing and chirping,” Travers insists to Disney, who has flown her to L.A. to win her over. “Mary Poppins does not sing.”

Travers’ resistance constitutes virtually the only tension in “Saving Mr. Banks”; yet the film generates plenty of interest and absorption – partly by tying the conflict to the author’s Australian childhood with a father who was both a charmer and a drunk.

Thompson is by turns hilarious and infuriating as the stiff and proper Englishwoman so set it her ways that at one point “she doesn’t want the color red in the film. At all.”

This fussiness is both a mask for inner scars and a way to control the perilous world; Thompson is simply brilliant at letting us see the pain and fear in Travers’ face, to the point that some of her silences are downright heartbreaking.

Hanks, by contrast, is the jolly glad-hander whose sunny optimism is (usually) a match for Travers as he insists that he too loves the book, that he doesn’t want just another smash hit and – most importantly – that his film, rather than reopening old wounds, might actually heal them.

His finest scene is the speech in which he promises to “save Mr. Banks” – the book’s parent, a marker for Travers’ own father; Thompson’s finest occurs as she watches the finished film and finally gets the teary-eyed closure that she (and incidentally, this film’s viewers) have been wanting for so long.

“Banks” benefits enormously from its supporting cast, notably Paul Giamatti as a Disney chauffeur, Colin Farrell as Travers’ father (the film has many childhood flashbacks), Bradley Whitford as screenwriter Don DaGradi, and Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak as the Sherman brothers, who wrote those splendid, timeless “Poppins” tunes.

Speaking of which: Composer Thomas Newman has done yet another masterful job scoring this film, with soaring strings, up-beat pop, quirky acoustic work and lovely interpolations of “Chim Chim Cheree.”

After 11 nominations, will someone please give this man an Academy Award?

“Saving Mr. Banks” is not a towering classic along the lines of “Gravity” or “12 Years a Slave” – but I’m awarding it top marks anyway simply because it’s stupendously entertaining; the movie leaves you feeling like a million bucks.