With this week’s release of Saving Mr Banks, about the troubled production of Mary Poppins, I decided to re-watch the classic film, to see if it was worth Walt Disney and P L Travers’ squabbles.
The short answer is yes. Disney is known for its magic, and no film is more magical than Mary Poppins. It’s clearly made with the imaginations of children in mind and that it captures this so brilliantly is why it’s so memorable. While modern films like, for example, Up or Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs try and appeal to a similar sentiment, they simply can’t reach the heights of wonder and amazement seen in Mary Poppins.
It has the innocence of a film which has no knowing winks to the adults in the audience, but wins them over with the wondrous world it creates. The music is a big part of this, with an array of songs that will have you whistling for weeks, accompanied by wonderfully entertaining dance routines.
Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke deserve particular credit here. Van Dyke’s accent is as bad as it ever was, but that’s just part of the charm of this film. To steal a quote from This is Spinal Tap he sounds like an “Australian’s nightmare”, but he was clearly selected for his physical skills as an actor, with the energy of a man half his age. The haunting seriousness of the children wouldn’t feel out of place in a horror film – probably called The Supercalifragilisticexpialidociousing – but luckily there’s plenty going on to make up for their similarity to the undead.
The influence the film has had is clear. The legendary penguin dancing scene, for example, clearly influenced MC Hammer. It includes the children’s guide to feminism, in the form of the suffragette mother (“Though we adore men individually/ We agree that as a group they’re rather stupid”), and the children’s guide to financial services, during a trip to the father’s bank.
The character of Poppins is highly powerful, in the same boat as the likes of Willy Wonka as a character with incredible skills which are devoted to fun and frivolity. She seems like Q from Star Trek: The Next Generation: a character with supreme, almost omnipotent powers, who chooses to spend his time toying with normal people. Mary Poppins could have ruled the world, and maybe she would have done if women had had the vote.
Altogether this remains a joyous ride from beginning to end, and is a film which should continue to delight children for many years to come.
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