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Oscar Watch: Disney Gives 'Saving Mr. Banks' a Limited December Run Ahead of Wide Holiday Release

Photo of Tom Brueggemann By Tom Brueggemann | Thompson on Hollywood June 13, 2013 at 9:27PM

Early buzz is good on Disney's indie pick-up "Saving Mr. Banks," and the studio appears confident that critical reaction and word-of-mouth will be upbeat, as they are moving the anticipated year-end entry up to December 13 in limited release, ahead of its wide break set for December 20.
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Saving Mr. Banks
Saving Mr. Banks

Early buzz is good on Disney's indie pick-up "Saving Mr. Banks," and the studio appears confident that critical reaction and word-of-mouth will be upbeat, as they are moving the anticipated year-end entry up to December 13 in limited release, ahead of its wide break set for December 20. A Disney spokesman isn't ready to nail down the number of initial screens and cities.

Almost 50 years after "Mary Poppins" became the first Disney film ever to win a major Academy Award (best actress for Julie Andrews, along with four other Oscars), and just after the studio's Best Picture loss for DreamWorks' "Lincoln," Disney is clearly positioning the story of "Poppins" author P.L Travers (Emma Thompson) and the making of the classic film based on her children's bestseller for award season attention. Tom Hanks plays iconic animator, studio head, and avuncular TV host Walt Disney. 

Director John Lee Hancock's most recent film "The Blind Side" (Warner Bros.) managed a Best Picture nomination along with Sandra Bullock's Best Actress win. His two previous films -- "The Rookie" and "The Alamo" -- were both Disney productions, so this film marks a return home for him.

Like most studios, Disney rarely platforms year-end films, particularly ones like "Banks" that could boast general audience appeal and play wide during the holidays. In recent years, most big studio Best Picture nominees -- including Disney's "The Help" as well as late year releases "Lincoln," "True Grit," "Avatar" and "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" from various studios-- all opened in more than 1,000 theaters initially, leaving the platform strategy to the independents and their specialized arms. Since 2006, only "Frost/Nixon," "The Fighter" and "Extremely Loud and Dangerously Close" had limited openings, and neither film was expected to reach the anticipate level of success expected for "Mr. Banks." "The Fighter" did broaden out prior to the holidays.

No other studio has strived as hard to promote its history as the Disney Company, and this is a continuation of their long record of mining past glory--in any case they weren't going to let anyone else release this film. One bit of glory they have never enjoyed is a Best Picture Oscar win (that was Harvey Weinstein's job when they owned Miramax). This positioning suggests they are serious not only about making "Mr. Banks" a hit, but a serious awards contender. And they're willing to take on the risk of mixed critical reaction. 

In other dating announcements, all wide releases for 2014, Disney also added:

  • "Planes: Fire and Rescue" (July 11)
  • "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day" with Steve Carell and Jennifer Garner from the best-selling children's book, directed by indie Miguel Arteta ("Cedar Rapids," "The Good Girl") (October 10)
  • Rob Marshall's adaptation of the musical "Into the Woods" (December 25, two years to the day of the launch of "Les Miserables"), also geared for maximum awards attention. 
  • Brad Bird's "Tomorrowland" is moved up a week (December 12) 

This article is related to: Walt Disney Pictures, Saving Mr. Banks, Tom Hanks, Emma Thompson, Box Office, Box Office, Box Office, Awards, Awards


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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.