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October 25th, 2014

Saving Mr. Banks ***

 

If I got to write the epitaph on Walt Disney’s tombstone, it would read:

 

“This Man Commoditized Childhood.”

 

I’ve got to hand it to him. Walt Disney had a magical, white-washed vision of America and he figured out how to sell it to us. And not just once. Again and again, decade after decade.

 

Every generation grew up with its own beloved Disney entertainment. People in the 1940s had “Dumbo.” Baby Boomers had “The Mickey Mouse Club.” My generation had “The Lion King.” Millennials had “Hannah Montana.”

 

To fans, Disney entertainment is consistently wholesome and family friendly. It promises cute animals, catchy songs, and happy endings and it always delivers.

 

To cynical detractors (like me), Disney entertainment is bland, manipulative fluff. To be fair, I never saw “The Lion King” like the rest of my classmates. By that age I was already more interested in Woody Allen and Stanley Kubrick.

 

That probably made me a weird kid. I also think it made me a less nostalgic adult, with more sophisticated taste in art and film and comedy.

 

It probably made me more morbid. But that’s the price I have to pay, I guess. I saw “The Little Mermaid” and I saw “Dr. Strangelove.” Even at age 12, I knew that “Dr. Strangelove” was a much better movie.

 

As you can tell, I don’t care for Walt Disney, and not just because he may have been a Nazi sympathizer.

 

“Saving Mr. Banks” has a very different perspective on Walt Disney. The film defends both the man and the cultural value of his movies.

 

The story takes place in 1961. An energetic middle aged Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) has invited cantankerous British author P. L. Travers (Emma Thompson) to Los Angeles. Disney’s goal is to convince her to sell him the film rights to her beloved children’s book “Mary Poppins.”

 

“Saving Mr. Banks” is a classic “A Christmas Carol”-style drama, where an angry old curmudgeon slowly goes from being a Grinch to being a Disney fan. At first Travers says “no” to every idea that Walt throws at her. No animation. No Dick Van Dyke. No songs!

 

But, eventually, inevitably, Travers’s icy heart melts and she agrees to give Disney the film rights. “Saving Mr. Banks” is basically a good movie; it’s always nice to watch a mean, bitter character have a change of heart.

 

The ending is predictable and cheesy. But Travers makes some terrific arguments about why Disney movies are poisonous to the minds of children along the way.

 

“Where’s the gravitas? Where’s the reality? Where’s the heart?!” Travers passionately asks Disney. Exactly, Ms. Travers! I don’t agree with the notion that sheltering kids from darkness and truth and death will make them happier or more well-adjusted adults.

 

I like a happy ending as much as the next guy. But I also want some violence, profanity, nudity, and intellectual stimulation along the way.

 

Long story short: Disney movies are garbage. “Saving Mr. Banks” is pretty good, though.

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