Emma Thompson is such a naturally effervescent presence on screen, it’s almost a shame to have her playing a character who is fussy, dour, and uptight. But she does just that—wonderfully, mind you—as Pamela “P.L” Travers, the creator of Mary Poppins.
Saving Mr. Banks is essentially a fish out of water tale, as Travers leaves the comfort of the tea cozies and tasteful décor of her London home to fly to Los Angeles, where she finds everything to be vulgar, overly casual, and sickeningly sweet. She’s a stand-on-ceremony lady in the land of nicknames, quick chumminess, and hugs.
She’s there because Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) wants to turn her books into a movie and he needs her to sign on the dotted line. She’s mortified that he’ll transform her heroine into something “cavorting and twinkling.” Disney, who is used to charming people into getting what he wants, finds her to be an unexpected challenge. A day at Disneyland doesn’t do the trick, nor does a hotel room filled with giant stuffed Disney characters. She is un-seducible. Only Paul Giamatti, as a kindly chauffeur, seems to thaw out Travers’ icy demeanor, although even that takes some time.