Thinking Slightly Too Hard About A Disney Classic
Writers don’t sit down to enjoy films in quite the same way as civilians.
We get distracted by mis-en-scene, subtext, plot holes and red herrings. We watch out for foreshadowing, signalling and dialogue that’s too on-the-nose. As a result, we tend to prefer ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ over ‘The Lion King’ because the former has some kind of scientific grounding whereas although the latter has literary allusions to ‘Hamlet’, they’re delivered by talking animals.
Which brings us to the problem of the original ‘Mary Poppins’ (1964). One gets the feeling that grumpy PL Travers didn’t really think through her six magical books, and that Walt, in a desperate effort to please the old bat, followed her words rather than his logic. Because for any writer the film is riddled with flaws.
To start with, we know and have to accept that Mary Poppins is a magical being like Santa Claus, but does she help out many other children, and if so how long does she spend with each family? ‘Until the wind changes’ isn’t very exact. Where does she live when she’s not got a placement? ‘In the clouds’ isn’t good enough, partly because as we’ve seen from the opening credits, the clouds aren’t very stable.
Of course if she’s ageless this problem can be addressed. But if she is ageless, why is she always checking herself in mirrors? What she sees won’t change. She blasts away all the other job applicants and simply takes over without formal credentials. Luckily she’s Julie Andrews, who is clearly not real, so we accept that. But the Banks family don’t seem to need a nanny at all. The children are perfect, the house is spotless and even though the wife is out on suffragette marches she still manages to bring her husband’s sherry on time. If Mary Poppins tried to boss around a modern family she’d be locked in the basement.
As for Bert, I’m not sure I’d trust him around children. Apart from that ridiculous accent, possibly adopted to hide the fact that he’s wanted by the police, is he a vagrant? He seems to have an assortment of gig-economy jobs; pavement artist, music man, chimney sweep, all cash in hand. And who is he to the nanny? Is he a former date, a reformed stalker? In the song ‘It’s a Jolly Holiday’, Mary Poppins sings, ‘You never think of pressing your advantage, forbearance is the hallmark of your name, a lady needn’t fear when you are here.’ It’s an odd remark to suddenly come out with, even in a lyric. Had he acted inappropriately in the past?
And what did the children do that made everyone so terrified of them? They seem so nice. Were they like Patty Duke in ‘The Bad Seed’ or Regan in ‘The Exorcist’, able to be evil then turn charming at a moment’s notice? Is that why they had Elsa Lanchester – the actual Bride of Frankenstein – as their previous nanny, and even she was scared?
As for Admiral Boom, why has no-one slapped an antisocial order on him for releasing explosives at home? Where is the Noise Abatement Society when you need it?
That uncle who laughs on the ceiling, presumably he has a watered-down version of Mary Poppins’ powers. It runs in the family. It’s a good job he makes Michael Banks laugh because he’s going to grow up to be like his father otherwise. He’s far too obsessed about that tuppence and banking in general. Fidelity Fiduciary must be a pretty shit bank if there’s a run caused by a single children’s deposit.
In fact, when you think about it the children are left worse off when Mary Poppins leaves. Mum’s still out protesting, they have no nanny and dad’s lost his job. How will they pay the mortgage now, given that they live in Hampstead? Kite-flying is merely a displacement therapy at best and avoidance of reality at worst.
I have possibly overthought this.
I thought about this because I have already seen A Certain Big Christmas Film, and we’re not allowed to discuss it until the end of November. Meanwhile, for old times’ sake, let’s have Pogo’s delightful remix again.