Monday, October 24, 2011

Mary Poppins -- 1964

Mary Poppins 
Rated G

I was talking to a student the other day about some music and Mary Poppins came up in our conversation. My student beamed at the mention of  the name, then admitted that she had never seen the movie. Why is Mary Poppins so magical? Why do people automatically smile when they hear of her? I was very young when I first saw Mary Poppins. Imagine a little girl at her Grandma's house (my family didn't own a t.v.), sitting on the floor, looking up at the screen, mesmerized by the magic of the story, lovely Mary Poppins, handsome jolly Bert, stern Mr Banks, flustered Mrs. Banks and the two rascals Jane and Michael. That was me. Now imagine many years, and miles, later: a young woman is curled up on the couch in her new home watching Mary Poppins. The music still makes me want to dance with the chimney sweeps, Mr. Banks is annoying, Julie Andrews is gorgeous, the jokes are corny, Dick van Dyke is a handsome devil and the children are little rascals. Oh yes! No matter where we are, who we are, what we are: The magic lives on in our hearts.

Jane and Michael Banks have gone through no less than six nannies in four months. When their parents and their hired help discover the departure of the latest -- Katie Nanna, everyone is irate. Poor Jane and Michael are sent upstairs to be dressed for bed while their father decides that his wife simply does not possess wisdom when it comes to assessing character. He dictates an advertisement to the Times requesting someone who is strict, stern and who will mold his children into obedience. He is the head of his home and his home will be punctual, wife dutifully submissive and children models of good behavior.

But the children have also decided their parents might not know what they need either so they write a list and, trembling, give it to their father. The list requests the services of a fun, caring nanny who will be their friend. Mr. Banks sees it as nonsense, tears it up and throws it in the fire place. What he doesn't see are the pieces of paper swirling up the chimney until the last one has disappeared from view.

Not many hours later, they are just finishing their breakfast when Ellen the maid announces there are two dozen stern and strict looking nannies waiting outside. Mr. Banks replies that he said interviews would begin at 8 o' clock and he will begin at 8 o' clock, not a minute sooner. As the children dolefully watch from their nursery window upstairs, they notice the wind seems to have come up. In fact, it comes up so quickly that the poor black clad, stern and strict nannies seem to be getting blown off their feet, umbrellas catching in the wind... until there is not a single one left.

Then, they see her. She is also dressed in black, also with an umbrella, also carrying a bag. But there is one difference, she floats in from the sky and lands neatly on their doorstep. When she raps on the door, it is exactly 8 o' clock. She says her name is Mary Poppins and she can fill the specifications dictated in the advertisement. She holds up a paper which looks like it has been ripped up and put back together again. and begins reading the children's advertisement, word for word. 

Mr. Banks, for once, is at a loss for words.

What I Liked

1: The story in this movie is dramatic and exaggerated but in doing so, the script writers cover a lot of ground. We all know people like Mr. Banks and Mrs. Banks. Perhaps we are Jane or Michael... or Ellen. Maybe we're even Mary Poppins. I appreciate how much I could relate to this story.

2: It is very clear why Mrs. Banks chooses to be a suffragette. It is because of what happens at home. Mr. Banks does not treat her or any woman as an equal. She is his wife, not his friend. She is to be there for him, submissively telling him that he is right in all things. In the end, we see the difference in their relationship. She is his beloved and someone he confides in. The change in her is beautiful.

3: Mary Poppins fights dirty. Lol! But she really does! I appreciate how she and Bert worke together to help Mr. Banks realize what he is doing to his life and family.

4: Bert and Mary Poppins have a big of unrequited romance going on here. I know P. L. Travers (author of Mary Poppins books) didn't want it but, hey, on screen chemistry between Dick van Dyke and Mary Poppins totally happened. Flirtation, meaningful looks and tenderness just oozes off of them while they're on their date in the chalk drawing. :-) I really appreciated that they didn't even hold hands (except in the most decorous way).

5: The music and dancing in this film is amazing. Hands down, one of the best musicals ever created. All of the songs catch your attention. Usually there is at least one dud song in a musical (Oklahoma has about 10 of them) and I was listening for it closely. There were none. And I mean, not a single one. All of them had my heart and feet pitter-pattering.

6: The acting was very good. Facial expressions, tone, lines... it was all excellent. 

7: Even after 47 years, Mary Poppins is still a very popular film. I had to search long and hard for the copy of the movie I now own. Like The Sound of Music or Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, it never comes down in price. All ages appreciate the story, the music, the acting and the filmography. All see the treasure of the films made in the Golden Era.

My Thoughts

I discovered that the Mary Poppins had her beginnings in the book world. The world first heard of her existence when P. L. Travers (1899 - 1996) published Mary Poppins in 1934. In the book, she is "stern, vain and usually cross but has a magical touch..." The reminder of the series spanned 7 books and years 1935 - 1988.

The books became widely popular. So popular in fact, that in 1938 Walt Disney tried to purchase the film rights from P. L. Travers. She told him to go away. She did not think a film would do justice to her story and definitely didn't want it to be animated. But Walt Disney was a patient and persistent man. Finally, in 1961 he succeeded and began the process of making the magical film that was we all know. Guess what? There is a the tiniest bit of animation threaded into it... and guess what again? The world of Bert's art has always been my favorite part of the movie. :-) Rest assured, P. L. Travers demanded and got script approval rights. (Fortunately for us some things, such as flirtatious looks between Mary Poppins and Bert, didn't require a script...)

Imagine a world without the talents and creativity expressed in the film (1964), the books (1938 - 1988) and the Broadway production (2004). I am thankful for people like P. L. Travers, Walt Disney, Julie Andrews and Dick van Dyke who allowed their creativity and talents to make the world a better place for everyone who knows of them.

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