Doesn't Tom Hanks ever just sit down and relax? After the grueling "Captain Phillips," what does he do for an encore? He gives us Walt Disney (with a regulation mustache) during the time he clashes with P.L. Travers, the feisty woman who wrote "Mary Poppins." (I never heard about that, did you? Evidently this battle was waged over a 20-year period, as their respective fortunes waxed and waned.)
The doughty author is an unbending, sharp-tongued shrew who flings insults with arrogant abandon but expects to be treated with deference and respect. "I am Mrs. Travers, NOT Pamela!" She intimidates everyone she encounters and marches out of meetings without compunction. The pears in her complimentary fruit basket at the Beverly Hills hotel are lobbed off the balcony. Her demands are legendary: "There will be no RED in this film!"
- * Tom Hanks ("Cloud Atlas") as Walt Disney, beset by a cantankerous dame who will not trust him to do justice to her beloved character. It takes his insight and shared memories of mutually unlovable fathers that allows him to finally make a tiny dent in her armor.
- * Emma Thompson ("Nanny McPhee") is P.L. Travers who swears she will make sure her creation is treated with respect. To her, Disney is the personification of a Hollywood machine that will mangle her magical nanny beyond recognition. (He first proposed an animated version.)
- * Annie Rose Buckley ("Home and Away") is Ginty, the name her doting father called our author when she was a child in Australia. We see numerous flashbacks that illustrate her hardscrabble childhood.
- * Colin Farrell ("Dead Man Down") is Travers Goff, her beloved banker father who colors her childhood with his affection and his drunkenness. Farrell continues to dazzle me with his range and skill! He even makes his drunken character lovable.
- * Ruth Wilson ("Luther") is Margaret, our author's long-suffering mother, living at the lonely end of the railroad line in Australia.
- * (Rachel Griffiths ("Brothers & Sisters") is Aunt Ellie, umbrella and bottomless carpetbag in hand, come to that miserable house to help the struggling family. The moment we see her rigid silhouette at the front door, we KNOW who inspired Mary Poppins!
- * Paul Giamatti ("Romeo and Juliet") is Ralph, the first American to face Travers' withering scorn; he is her limo driver. She isn't impressed by California; when she sniffs the air, he tells her she is smelling jasmine, she thinks it "smells of sweat!"
"Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" is hidden from Mrs. Travers because she won't tolerate nonsense. Disney's talented but thoroughly cowed songwriters (played by Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak) are out-witted, out-foxed and out-maneuvered by this wily, determined, and exasperating woman.
The screening audience often laughed at her acerbic (PG-13) wit. Me, not so much; I missed a lot because of the soundtrack. I found myself longing for closed captions; I know I'll love my DVD when it becomes available.
Oh! Mr. Banks is the children's father in "Mary Poppins." He's a banker. Did you remember that?