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Saving Mr. Banks is the second Disney movie this year about an isolated, lonely, emotionally crippled woman whose cold heart is eventually thawed by love.

In this case, the snow queen is P. L. Travers (Emma Thompson). She isn't royalty, but she has been getting her way for so long that she no longer knows how to connect with people emotionally—least of all the very charming, very American, very emotionally seductive Walt Disney (Tom Hanks). As the film opens, Travers has been rebuffing Disney's attempts to buy the rights to her novel, Mary Poppins. Broke and unwilling (or unable) to write more, she agrees to hear him out, hoping against hope that she will somehow be able to cash his check and yet maintain creative control over her characters.

As the film progresses, its story splits into two threads. As Travers terrorizes Disney's team of creators and rebuffs his overtures of friendship, flashbacks take us through her childhood in Australia. Through them, we learn the supposed inspirations for Mary Poppins. And we may come to understand why she's so attached to story details that at first seemed arbitrary or insignificant.

On paper, the film has all the elements of a smash. Disney (the studio) has mimicked Disney (the film's character) by sparing no expense to assemble a top tier creative team. You know your cast is outstanding when Emma Thompson's performance is the most bland.

Then again, Disney (the studio), like Disney (the film's character), has stacked the deck against her.

It's not enough that Travers is relentlessly rude to Disney himself—maligning his theme park and insulting his films. She commits the cardinal sin of all American movies: she is rude to the little ...

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December 2013

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