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Film Review: Saving Mr. Banks


David Ives - published on 01/10/14

Disney Studios takes on the making of perhaps its greatest film.

The January/February movie season has traditionally been viewed as the graveyard to which studios send their lesser films to die a quick death. So if you're compelled to see a movie in theaters during this time, you've basically got two choices – you can put on your battle face and heroically face the worst Hollywood can dish out (Hercules? And not even the one starring The Rock? Really?), or you can chicken out and catch up on all those potential Oscar nominees that you haven't managed to see yet. Well, it's still too darn cold out there to muster up any barbaric yawps right at the moment, so I suggest we just just go ahead and pass out some white weathers and have a nice chat about Saving Mr. Banks.

Now a lot of movies based on true events have unfolded on the big screen over the past year – films chock full of real people caught up in extraordinary circumstances. We've seen desperate parents participating in drug deals (Snitch), Formula-1 racers risking their lives on the track (Rush), bodybuilding kidnappers (Pain & Gain), innocent men having their freedom stolen away (Twelve Years A Slave), and small-time con artists trapped in big-time government scandals (American Hustle). So with such an over-abundance of heart pounding true stories preceding it, you could forgive a person if they found the idea of a movie about Walt Disney making a business deal to sound less than exciting.

Surprisingly, Saving Mr. Banks turns out to be, in its own quiet way, one of the more touching mainstream movies to hit theaters in awhile. The film chronicles Walt Disney's (the man himself, not the company) week-long last-ditch effort to woo author P. L. Travers into signing over the film rights to Mary Poppins. The problem is that Travers despises most, if not all, of Disney's output and has no interest in releasing her creation into his clutches. She only agrees to come to California because she is desperately in need of money and has been assured by her agent that Disney will submit to any and all changes to the script she requests – something Disney has never acquiesced to in his entire career.

On the surface, it sounds like the movie is going to focus on a monumental contest of wills, which should provide plenty of entertainment given the personalities involved. After all, if we're to believe the sound bytes of conventional wisdom, then we all know that in real life Travers was a weaselly, paranoid monster who hated most of her fellow men, while Disney was actually a misogynistic Jew-hating god-king whose frozen head still tyrannically oversees his kingdom years after his alleged death. Who wouldn't want to watch a battle to the death between two such titans of terror?

Fortunately, the movie wisely sidesteps the more exaggerated aspects of conventional wisdom and instead gives us a simple story about two relatable human beings caught up in a very personal situation. For his part, Disney feels compelled to  make good on a promise he made to his daughters twenty years earlier to bring Mary Poppins to the screen. By his own account, he's never once lied to his children, and so he'll bring to bear all his considerable skill as a consummate showman and relentless businessman to ensure this isn't the first time.

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