It's not every day that you get to write something like this, so let's just say it: "Mary Poppins" may be the most controversial movie at this year's Newport Beach Film Festival.
OK, maybe that is a stretch. The 1964 Disney classic recently got tapped for preservation by the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress, and there are probably few people older than 10 who can't quote at least a few bars of "A Spoonful of Sugar."
Still, the film — indirectly, at least — became the center of a maelstrom a few months ago when "Saving Mr. Banks," a Disney-produced feature about the making of "Mary Poppins," drew ire from some who felt the movie slighted "Poppins" author P.L. Travers in favor of glorifying the studio's insistence on broad, cheery family entertainment.
"Banks," based on the true story of Travers' mostly unsuccessful sparring with Walt Disney over the creative direction of "Poppins," inspired LA Weekly critic Amy Nicholson to declare that "there's something sour in a movie that roots against a woman who asserted her artistic control by asking to be a co-screenwriter." A Los Angeles Times piece sported the headline "Is 'Saving Mr. Banks' too hard on 'Mary Poppins' creator?"
Even the studio head's name wound up dragged through the mud when Meryl Streep, presenting an award to "Banks" star Emma Thompson at the National Board of Review awards gala in January, labeled Disney a "gender bigot" who supported an anti-Semitic lobbying group. What was that lyric again about pairing sugar with bitter medicine?
If there are any lingering hard feelings over "Poppins," the Newport Beach Film Festival may inflame them — unless the audience is too busy humming along with "Chim Chim Cher-ee" to care. Not only will the film screen Sunday in a 50th-anniversary showing at the Regency Lido Theatre, but "Banks" director John Lee Hancock plans to visit the same day for a filmmaking seminar at the Island Cinema at Fashion Island.
Hancock, a Balboa Island resident, doesn't take a personal side in the half-century-old spat between Disney and Travers. To him, though, "Banks" amounts to a fair depiction — and even a lenient one of Travers, whom he said softened in the transition from real life to screen.
"I think it was a very fair portrayal of her, but there's no doubt that she was tougher in reality," Hancock said. "I talked to [songwriter] Richard Sherman, who was in that rehearsal room for two weeks. She was much tougher than in the movie. And in terms of Disney, you know, it's not his movie. It's two weeks in 1961 of Walt Disney. We pretty much know what he was doing.
"Some people were like, 'Why didn't you include the union stuff?' And I said, 'That was 20 years before and it's not his movie.' So, you know, people are going to find things to quibble about."
Hancock, who will introduce the "Poppins" screening, may be the greatest expert on the movie present. During the making of "Banks," he and his crew viewed the Disney classic repeatedly and used some of the details for their film. For example, when determining the appearance of Travers' father, Hancock's team zeroed in on the signet pinky ring that David Tomlinson, who plays Mr. Banks, wears in the 1964 film. Both Thompson and Colin Farrell wear a similar ring.
"We were trying to put as many little Easter eggs in as we possibly could — little tie-ins to the movie that we would expose in ours," Hancock said.
Disney has had a long-standing relationship with the festival, which in recent years has regularly hosted a "Disney Rarities" program featuring obscure clips and outtakes from the vaults. With the program's emcees, Don Hahn and Dave Bossert, out of town this year, the organizers opted to honor Disney a different way.
"We just felt this was a great way to celebrate the 50th anniversary and continue a partnership with Disney," said Gregg Schwenk, the festival's chief executive and executive director. "One of the important aspects of the Newport Beach Film Festival is accessibility. We wanted a film and event that would be accessible to a large part of our community, and we could think of nothing better than the 50th anniversary of 'Mary Poppins.' "
Begrudgingly or not, Travers might agree.
If You Go
What: Directing Seminar: A Conversation with John Lee Hancock
Where: Island Cinema, 999 Newport Center Drive, Newport Beach
When: 1:30 p.m. Sunday
What: "Mary Poppins"
Where: Regency Lido Theatre, 3459 Via Lido, Newport Beach
When: 4:30 p.m. Sunday
Information: (949) 253-2880 or http://www.newportbeachfilmfest.comCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun