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Review: 'Banks' takes Walt Disney to an emotionally raw place

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Saving Mr. Banks is a surprise.

It’s not surprising that it’s good – beyond good to borderline fantastic. It also features Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson, two of the best performers to ever grace a movie screen.

It’s not surprising that this film will be an Oscar contender. After all, Walt Disney Studios, the film house behind this story has won its share of Academy Awards.

So what’s the surprise? The fact that a film associated with the making of the classic film Mary Poppins could have such a dark streak.

But director John Lee Hancock and screenwriters Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith have imbued this tale with a heaping dose of reality as opposed to multiple spoons full of sugar. It can be heart wrenching and then heartwarming.

It can be personal and coldly cynical, but it is never boring and possesses enough raw emotion to suck anyone into its narrative. The fact that a Walt Disney Studios labeled movie received a PG-13 ratings speaks volumes for this tale. Normally, films from the studio with those ratings get one of the boutique labels slapped on it.

But the movie tells a story that directly involves Walt, so in one respect that makes sense. Hanks portrays Mickey Mouse’s creator here.

He’s bewildered, perplexed and being turned out in this film all over a woman named Poppins. No she’s not real, or is she?

She’s the creation of author P.L. Travers (Thompson) and by the time her life intersects with Walt’s he would have invested two decades in attempting to get Thompson to sell him the movie rights to her novel Mary Poppins.

Dry and prickly, Travers is as British as the British come. Despite the fact that she’s bordering on broke and faces losing her home, she remains steadfast in her decision. But reality sets in and she finally agrees to journey to Hollywood to meet with Walt and discuss the project.

With her arrival comes plenty of emotional baggage, nothing that anyone is aware until Disney, frustrated with her unwillingness to cede on anything, steps in.

Told primarily through flashback, the irony that Mary Poppins, such a beloved and happy character, was born out of tragic circumstance fascinates.

Even more interesting is the way Hancock deftly balances the movie’s humor with its darker, more emotional elements crafting a perfect blend. He captures the look of 1961 Disneyland perfectly.

Additionally, he deserves heaping praise for assembling a supporting cast in Paul Giamatti, Colin Farrell, Jason Schwartzman and Bradley Whitford who are equal to the talents of their leads.

Hanks has Walt Disney down right to the mannerisms and the disarming charm that was so evident in any film clips that remain available. Thompson takes Travers on an emotional journey that allows her to reconcile the tragedy of her past with the reality of her present.

It was a surprise when reviews began to mention Saving Mr. Banks as a possible Oscar contender. Not any longer.

Movie: Saving Mr. Banks
Director: John Lee Hancock
Cast: Tom Hanks, Emma Thompson, Paul Giamatti, Colin Farrell, Jason Schwartzman, Bradley Whitford
Studio: Walt Disney Studios
Rated: PG-13 for thematic elements including some unsettling images.
Running time: 125 minutes
George’s rating: 4.5-of-5 stars
Check for theaters and showtimes at Atlas Cinemas, Cleveland Cinemas, and


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