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Relive a classic at Newport Beach Film Festival

To celebrate its 50th anniversary, the Disney classic "Mary Poppins" -- which has indirectly become the center of a recent maelstrom -- will be screened Sunday.

April 26, 2014|By Michael Miller
  • "Mary Poppins" will be screened at the Newport Beach Film Festival on Sunday.
"Mary Poppins" will be screened at the Newport… (Daily Pilot )

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?"

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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.

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