‘Saving Mr. Banks’
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By Don Gibble  December 20, 2013 12:00 am

Christmas is this week. A perfect time to go see a movie. 

If you haven’t seen “Frozen” yet do yourself a favor and see it in the theater. Don’t wait for DVD. 

Opening this week is “Saving Mr. Banks,” one of the most original movies released in a long time. 

According to this based-on-a-true-story account of the making of “Mary Poppins,” when Walt Disney offered to buy the rights to P.L. Travers’ book, the author insisted on just two things: that she would retain script approval and that there would be no animation. 

History shows that she didn’t exactly get her way, at least as far as the animation was concerned. 

But dancing penguins aside, “Saving Mr. Banks” suggests that Travers put up a good fight with Disney, then one of the most powerful studio heads in the business.

The finished product, directed by John Lee Hancock, is a cunningly effective study of the transformation of pain into art, marbled with moments of high comedy.

Some historians will balk at the highly sympathetic depiction of Walt Disney, played by Tom Hanks, hardly a surprise given that the logo of the company he founded opens the credits. However, you will swallow this tasty spoonful of sugar without complaint. 

Emma Thompson takes charge of the central role of the waspish P.L. Travers with an authority that makes you wonder how anybody else could ever have been considered to play her. 

Firing off perfectly timed put-downs with the confident stride of a governess tidying up the nursery, she’s a fearsome figure of feminine steeliness. 

There’s an echo here of Sandra Bullock in “The Blind Side,” except that Travers is considerably less maternal, despite being a children’s writer. 

When a woman with a baby on the plane to Los Angeles offers to move her own hand luggage to make room for Travers’ bag, she offers no thanks and only asks if the child will be a nuisance on the flight.

At first a classic fish out of water, with her haughty Old World ways when she lands in laid-back, informal 1961 Hollywood, Mrs. Travers is gradually won over by Walt and staff. 

As they slug it out over the script, golden-hued flashbacks to Travers’ own Australian childhood uncover the scars that her writing of “Mary Poppins” would try to heal. 

Like Mr. Banks in the book, Pamela’s father, Travers Goff, played by Colin Farrell, was a bank manager who had a temper at times, but there the parallels end. 

An alcoholic whose irresponsibility pulled his family down the social scale, he’s seen as a child-man always eager to participate in their games.

Clearly, Mary Poppins the character inherited something from him, as she did from Pamela’s aunt, who shows up with a carpetbag full of wonders just when the family most needs help. 

Ultimately, Mary Poppins turns out to be an idealized version of Pamela Travers herself, and it’s only when Disney figures out how to lift the veil hanging over her own backstory that he can persuade her to let go of her creation. 

As well as the outstanding performances by the leads and supporting cast, sturdy craft contributions from all departments add polish, while the use of what looks like the real Disney Burbank facility adds veracity. 

You don’t have to be a Disney fan to enjoy this movie. Just be a kid at heart.

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