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Saving Walt Disney 

Frozen and Saving Mr. Banks are a one-two Christmas punch

I had no idea what I wanted for Christmas; that is until I sat through back-to-back screenings of Frozen and Saving Mr. Banks.

Once again, Uncle Walt delivered the goods.

The sweet and dazzling confection that is Frozen felt like Christmas morning--a Technicolor musical adventure--while Saving Mr. Banks felt more like Christmas Eve, after the kids have gone to bed, when you get all snuggly, dim the lights and find an old familiar song on the radio. I highly recommend that you surrender to the collective enchantment of both, lest three ghosts visit you.

I must admit to some skepticism as I settled in to watch Frozen; I have found some of the Disney studio's recent efforts hackneyed, even formulaic. But Frozen soars to the heights of the finest Disney traditions. In a year of superb movie making that has really gained some steam in the final stretch, Frozen is one of my four favorite films of 2013 (I'll reveal my annual list in our Dec. 25 edition).

Barely based on Hans Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen, Frozen is the tale of scampish Anna (Kristen Bell) and her elder sister Elsa (Idina Menzel). As children, they're inseparable playmates. But as Elsa grows older, a cold-hearted curse isolates her from all humankind. It is no mere coincidence that Menzel was chosen for this role: She was the Tony Award-winning, green-faced heroine of Broadway's Wicked, which has so much in common with Frozen that the film occasionally feels like a Wicked sequel--trust me, that's a good thing. Everyone knows that Menzel's singing voice is superb, but the real surprise here is what a great singer Bell is.

Along the sisters' girl-powered journey, we meet Olaf (Josh Gad), the talking snowman we always imagined as our best childhood friend; reindeer sidekick Sven (who doesn't speak); and love-interest Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), who sells ice for a living.

Another animated bunch of characters--the human variety, this time--bounce around in Saving Mr. Banks, not the least of which is Tom Hanks as Walt Disney in a loving story of how he worked to convince P.L. Travers (played by the delicious Emma Thompson) to turn her Mary Poppins books into a supercalifrag... well, you know the rest.

It's common lore that Travers abhorred all things Disney and resisted the thought of turning her practically perfect nanny into a dancehall queen.

Alas, if you've seen the trailer, you know where the story is heading. But in the Oscar-winning hands of Hanks and Thompson, we know we're in for an enjoyable ride at Disneyland. Thompson is a hoot and a half, and Hanks has Walt's Missouri hard-edge twang to a "T."

But deep into the third reel of Saving Mr. Banks, there's a scene that, at least for me, sealed the deal: Disney, nearly defeated in his attempt to convince Travers of his stewardship, strolls into one of his music studios where a songwriter is plucking out the notes of "Feed the Birds"--the melancholy song that would soon be the gentle heart of what would become Disney's Mary Poppins.

"That'll work," says Disney.

Does it ever. The scene will melt your heart; but no worries: With Frozen and Saving Mr. Banks, a little heat and ice never hurt anybody.

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