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Article by Teddy Durgin

Banks... Hanks... Thanks!

In reading some of the early, mostly positive reviews of "Saving Mr. Banks," the few, misguided, negative write-ups all seem to hammer one key point: that the film is NOT completely accurate in depicting P.L. Travers' long quarrel with Walt Disney over getting her beloved book, "Mary Poppins," to the silver screen in the early 1960s. It also glosses over her ultimately negative reaction to the finished film in favor of a sunny, "Disney-fied" ending. What a bunch of lazy critics! A pox on all of them! If we're going to start criticizing every film that is "based on a true story" or "inspired by real events" as not being 100 percent, totally accurate, you might as well take back Best Picture Oscars for everything from "Lawrence of Arabia," "The Sound of Music" and "Patton," to the more recent "Schindler's List," "Titanic" and "Argo." All of them are riddled with historical inaccuracies. But all of them are examples of great storytelling that connected with millions of people. And I'll wager that each of those films has inspired many viewers over the years to take to the Internet or stroll down to their local libraries to read up on the real events to see "what really happened." What you don't want to see on screen is irresponsible storytelling, bending what was once real to fit a modern political or social agenda. And you can certainly call to task documentaries if they don't get their facts straight. They're documentaries! But a movie? Come on! Dig a little deeper if you wanna mess all over a legitimately good film. "Saving Mr. Banks" indeed chronicles the creative tug of war between the formidable, fiercely protective Travers (perfectly played by Emma Thompson) and the gee-whiz, wishmaster Disney (Tom Hanks, just delightful) over a book ol' Walt tried to make for many years into a movie, but the author resisted. Travers didn't want to see her beloved story given the "Disney treatment." She describes Mary Poppins as "the very enemy of sentiment and whimsy," who doesn't "sugar-coat the darkness of a world children will eventually come to know." Disney, on the other hand, knows he and his team of songwriters, artists and talented actors can make a great and legitimately uplifting film out of her book, possibly a classic. And he slowly comes to realize that Travers' desire to protect her property goes a lot deeper than she cares to admit. The film definitely becomes a battle of wills, but in a way that challenges the audience to consider what is illusion - both up on a movie screen and in the movie screen of the mind. There wasn't a single moment in this film where I wasn't completely fascinated and absorbed. But if "Saving Mr. Banks" had only been about the Travers-Disney tug of war, it might have grown a bit tedious. Part of the magic of this movie is its use of delightful side characters who are impacted by the central conflict. The scenes where Travers duels screenwriter Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford) and songwriters Robert and Richard Sherman (B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman) over content are very tense, but very funny! There is also a lovely, evolving relationship in the film between Travers and her chipper, yet quietly wise driver Ralph (Paul Giamatti) that may be one of my favorite character dynamics of the year. The fact that this relationship is a complete fabrication for the film? I don't care! It works and works beautifully. And so does "Saving Mr. Banks." It stays true to itself throughout, and that's all we can ask of our storytellers. Like Hanks' Disney tells Travers late in the film: "That's what we storytellers do. We restore order with imagination. We instill hope again and again and again." This is a film you'll be able to revisit again and again to help restore a little hope and order in your life.

"Saving Mr. Banks" is rated PG-13 for thematic elements, including some unsettling images.

 

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