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

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

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) 

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