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'Saving Mr. Banks' star Emma Thompson is the highlight of the film

In 'Saving Mr. Banks,' Thompson plays 'Mary Poppins' author P.L. Travers, who is suspicious of Walt Disney's wish to make a film of her novel.

By Peter RainerFilm critic / December 13, 2013

Tom Hanks as Walt Disney, (l.), and Emma Thompson as author P.L. Travers in a scene from 'Saving Mr. Banks.

François Duhamel/Disney/AP

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Emma Thompson plays P.L. Travers, the author of the book “Mary Poppins,” in “Saving Mr. Banks,” and she is anything but warm and fuzzy. Frosty and snippy is closer to the mark. The film, directed by John Lee Hancock and written by Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith, dramatizes the difficulties Walt Disney, played here with gentle rigor by Tom Hanks, encountered when he attempted to wrangle Travers into relinquishing the rights to her book. Since Travers despises animation and what she characterizes as Disney “treacle,” the challenge is daunting.

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Through flashbacks to her childhood, the filmmakers attempt to give Travers, who grew up in Australia with a beloved but alcoholic father (Colin Farrell), some resonant low notes to counteract the shrill high ones in the early 1960s scenes. But the sequences with Travers berating her Disney collaborators, and Uncle Walt himself, are the liveliest. Thompson is very good at playing imperious, and she even manages an unexpected trace of flirtiness in a few offhanded moments with Hanks. Travers was a handful, and the movie, though far from hard-hitting, gives her her ornery due. Grade: B (Rated PG-13 for thematic elements including some unsettling images.)

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