ALL-STAR CAST: Emma Thompson as PL Travers and Tom Hanks as Walt Disney in Saving Mr Banks.
ALL-STAR CAST: Emma Thompson as PL Travers and Tom Hanks as Walt Disney in Saving Mr Banks. Contributed

Saving Mr Banks a fairy tale result for Aussie producer

AN AUSTRALIAN TV producer more accustomed to working on the small screen is behind Disney's latest hit film Saving Mr Banks.

Ian Collie's collaboration with Aussie screenwriter Sue Smith was the start of what would eventually become the star-studded film, which features Tom Hanks as Walt Disney and Emma Thompson as Mary Poppins author PL Travers.

"Not many Australian TV producers get to be involved in a studio film with this calibre of cast," Collie said.

"I've hit a home run, to use an American expression, on my first outing."

The film focuses on Mr Disney's efforts to secure the film rights from Travers - whose long list of demands included no animation, singing or use of the colour red - and the two weeks she spent nitpicking at the work of songwriters Robert and Richard Sherman and scriptwriter Don DaGradi.

The film slowly reveals, through flashbacks to Travers's childhood, that her protectiveness over Mary Poppins stemmed from her love for her father, an alcoholic bank clerk who died when she was a girl.

Collie calls it the story of Mary Poppins "without the spoonful of sugar".

"She wasn't a likable character," he said.

"But (through the course of the film) you understand what motivated and drove her.

"She mythologises and redeems her father in some ways through the character of Mr Banks.

"As she lets go, we let go with her."

Mr Disney spent nearly 20 years persuading the prickly Travers to sign over the movie rights to Mary Poppins, motivated by a promise he made to his daughters.

Just like Disney himself, Collie's original interest in PL Travers was inspired by his daughter.

"When my daughter was five or six, we had been revisiting some of those classic family films - Mary Poppins being an obvious one - and I remember finding myself quite moved again," he said.

"Soon after, I came across Valerie Lawson's book (Mary Poppins, She Wrote) and I read the back cover blurb about how she (Travers) grew up in Australia but the setting for the books was very English. That got my interest."

His research into Travers, who was born in Maryborough, Queensland, but moved to the UK in her mid- 20s, became the TV documentary The Shadow of Mary Poppins, which aired on the ABC in 2002.

"The documentary was a linear biography of her from a young girl until her death," he said.

"From that, what we thought would be great for a feature film in particular were the Disney years.

"That's where the seeds of it arose. I brought in Sue Smith, an Australian screenwriter, and then brought in (producer) Alison Owen."

They spent seven years working on the script before deciding to focus on the two weeks Travers spent in Los Angeles. But setting much of the film at Disneyland and using many of the Sherman brothers' iconic songs from the film required the backing of Disney Studios.

"Alison and myself envisaged it as an independent Australian/UK co-production but as we progressed in terms of the script, it became more obvious to us that the Disney years and Pamela's involvement in the creative process of the film was the real essence of the film itself," he said.

"We knew that would appeal to a broader audience but then on the flip side, had to get Disney Studios on side."

Disney Studios did come on board and the film was kicked into high gear, growing to a big-budget film attracting the likes of Hanks and Thompson. Collie is certainly happy with the end result. "It appeals on different levels," he said.

Collie and Owen have just recently been nominated for a prestigious Producers Guild of America Award for their work on the film.

Saving Mr Banks opens on Thursday.

Saving Mr Banks

STARS: Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Colin Farrell, Bradley Whitford.

DIRECTOR: John Lee Hancock


REVIEWER'S LAST WORD: A touching exploration of the story behind one of Disney's classic films.

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