An iconic Disney musical. And it so happened to have been on television both the night my brother was born, and the night I was born, twenty months later. The original book series was written by P.L. Travers. For the film, music was composed by the Sherman brothers and production was overseen by Walt Disney himself, as showcased in Saving Mr. Banks. I have seen the film and it was an interesting look into how the film was created, though a bit sad as well. Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson were excellent in it. The classic movie stars Julie Andrews (Sound of Music, The Princess Diaries) in her first major movie role (though she was already experienced on the stage) as the titular Mary Poppins. [And a note about that; Julie had starred as the original Eliza Doolittle from My Fair Lady on stage and had hoped to earn the role again in the film. But it went to Audrey Hepburn. Mary Poppins won the Oscar that year.] Her co-star was Dick Van Dyke (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang) as Bert, David Tomlinson (Bedknobs and Broomsticks) as Mr. George W. Banks, Reginald Owen (Bedknobs and Broomsticks) as Admiral Boom, and Arthur Treacher (yes, of the Fish and Chips restaurant line; he also appeared in several Shirley Temple films) as the Constable.
The establishing shots of the London skyline tell us we’re in England and we see Mary Poppins sitting on a cloud. Bert is a one-man band, entertaining a crowd, until the wind blows by: “something is brewing/ about to begin.” Then he addresses the audience, as we asked for directions to Number 17, Cherry Tree Lane. We pass by Admiral Boom, who has rigging on the top of his home, as well as a canon to mark the time. The world takes its time from Greenwich, but Greenwich takes its time from Admiral Boom. There is an argument brewing at Number 17; seems Katie Nana has lost her charges, but blames them, so she is leaving. Mrs. Banks arrives home from her Sister Suffragette rally, though it takes several tries to inform her that her children are missing. She quickly puts her things away so as to not upset her husband.
Mr. Banks arrives home cheerfully, it’s 1910, “King Edward’s on the throne/ it’s the Age of Men,” and he is pleased with The Life I Lead. Everything is on schedule, his servants and family treat him with the respect he deserves as head of the household (noblesse oblige) and it takes several minutes before he realizes his children are missing. The kindly constable brings them home and tries to encourage Mr. Banks to not be hard on them, but Mr. Banks dismisses him. With the same tune, he has his wife take down an advertisement for a new nanny. No-nonsense is the first requirement, “tradition, discipline, and rules/ must be the tools/ without them/ disorder, catastrophe, anarchy/ in short, you have a ghastly mess.” Jane and Michael have their own advertisement and though their mother follows her husband’s commands, she does insist that they listen to their children. Their first requirement is a cherry disposition, and a desire for games, all sorts. After the children are sent to bed, Mr. Banks tears up the notice and throws it into the fireplace. What he doesn’t see are the pieces float out the chimney.
There is a queue of nannies in the morning, but before Mr. Banks can begin interviewing there is a large gust of wind that blows them all away. Mary Poppins gently floats down and lands at the door. In her hand are the children’s qualifications, not Mr. Banks’ and so he wonders over at the fireplace what happened. Mary gives herself the job, but Mr. Banks seems suitably impressed and takes credit for it when his wife asks. Mary does the most extraordinary thing and rides the banister up. She quickly takes control in the nursery, putting her things away, after pulling them out of an empty carpet bag (loved that part as a kid). Michael thinks she’s tricky. Jane thinks she’s wonderful. Mary also pulls out her tape measure, to see how the children measure up. Michael is extremely stubborn and suspicious, while Jane is prone to giggling. Mary Poppins is “practically perfect in every way.” Time for their first game, tidying up the nursery. “In every job that must be done/ there is an element of fun/ you find the fun/ and snap, the job’s a game.” A Spoonful of Sugar helps the medicine go down. Snapping puts the toys and items laying about away, though it takes Michael several tries. It gets a little out of hand and Mary Poppins puts an end to it, but the children eagerly join her for a walk afterwards.
Today, Bert is a street artist and the trio arrive. He recognizes Mary Poppins and knows Jane and Michael from their adventures nearby. He tries some magic to pop the children into a drawing, but Mary Poppins steps in to do it properly. Now the children run off to a fair in new outfits and Bert remarks to Mary “it’s a Jolly Holiday…when Mary hold your hand/ it feels so grand/ your heart starts beating/ like a big brass band.” Animated animals come up to them and even join in the singing [animation style reminds me a bit of 101 Dalmatians]. The pair end up at a cafe with dancing penguins (I love this part!) Bert joins in the dancing and it’s wonderfully hilarious. He is quick to insist “cream of the crop/ tip of the top/ is Mary Poppins/ and there we stop.” They do join the children on a merry-go-round, but Mary has the horses jump off the carousel. They join a fox hunt, with Bert rescuing the Irish fox and that leads to a horse race. Mary’s manners lead her to the front and when the interviewers congratulate her, she reveals there is a word to use when one does not know what to say. Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious (just about the best song of all time). “Even though the sound of it/ is something quite atrocious/ if you say it loud enough/ you’ll always sound precocious.”
Rain ruins their day and they’re back in London in their regular clothes. Mary shows further magic when her medicine changes color and flavor for each person’s preference. When the children insist they are much too excited to go to sleep, Mary lulls them to Stay Awake. Of course, they drift off, but are cheerful the next morning, to their father’s chagrin. He feels Mary Poppins is undermining the discipline in the house; indeed, everyone is in a good mood except him. But he goes off to work and Mary takes the children out on errands. The dog, Andrew, barks he needs Mary’s help; so the children meet Uncle Albert. Bert is already there, and oddly, Uncle Albert is floating near the ceiling. I Love to Laugh, he declares, “loud and long and clear.” “The more I laugh/ the more I fill with glee/ and the more the glee/ the more I’m a merrier me.” Everyone joins him on the ceiling, though Mary simply floats up. She raises the tea table, but a little later, insists they must get home. And that is the secret to getting down; one must think of something sad. Bert stays with Albert.
Mr. Banks confronts Mary Poppins at home about the nature of her outings. He dislikes filling his children’s heads with silly nonsense. If they must have outings, they should be practical. Like taking them to the bank, suggests Mary. She tells the children that she never puts notions in someone’s head; it’s just the logical following of what they were saying. She urges the children to look for the bird lady at St. Paul’s Cathedral and to hear her cry of Feed the Birds (one of Walt Disney’s favorite songs). The song lulls the children to sleep again. They eagerly accompany their father, but he won’t let them use their money to feed the birds. Instead, he shows them to the leaders of the bank; several old men who use financial terms that confuse the children. The eldest, Mr. Dawes Sr (played by Dick Van Dyke as well) wants Michael to give his tuppence to the Fidelity, Fiduciary Bank. One must think prudently, thriftily, frugally, patiently, and cautiously. Of course, these all go over the children’s heads (and mine). When Michael is a bit confused, Dawes Sr. grabs the tuppence. So Michael shouts “give me back my money.” The other customers hear and start demanding their money as well. In the chaos, Michael and Jane run off. It’s a bit scary for a moment and they run into a man covered in soot. Luckily, it’s Bert. He calms them down and leads them home. Today he is a chimney sweep, “you may think a sweep’s/ on the bottom-most rung/ though I spends me time/ in the ashes and smoke/ in this whole wide world/ there’s no happier bloke.” Chim-Chim-Cheree “Good luck will rub off/ when I shake hands with you/ or blow me a kiss/ and that’s lucky too.” At the house, Mrs. Banks is off for another rally and asks Bert to look after the children since it’s Mary Poppins’ day off. The children are interested, until Michael shoots up the chimney when Mary walks in. Jane quickly follows, so Bert and Mary join them.
They get a beautiful view of the rooftops of London and march about. They run into Bert’s pals, all of whom are chimney sweeps as well and they entertain their visitors with a Step in Time (love this dance). Mary even joins in with a rising spin [I wonder what effects they used to film the sequence, since it had to be safe for the dancers.] Admiral Boom spots the dancers and has his assistant shoot firecrackers at them, chasing them off the roof. They all end up in the Banks’ home until Mr. Banks returns. After the exodus of chimney sweeps from his house, Mr. Banks gets a call from the bank; they want him to return later. He has a conversation with Bert, who points out that it is admirable to want to provide for your family, but soon they will grow and he won’t know them. Jane and Michael apologize to their father and Michael gives him his tuppence.
The board wants to dismiss Mr. Banks, for causing a run on the bank. They invert his umbrella, tear his flower, and punch out his hat. When they ask if he has anything to say, he recalls “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.” He even repeats the joke Michael taught him; for he’s seen what good Mary Poppins has done in his family and has made the decision that they are more important. He gives the tuppence to Dawes Sr, who starts pondering the joke and then begins to laugh. He laughs so much, he begins floating and his grown son cries out “Daddy! Come back!”
Mr. Banks gives his family a bit of a scare; they’ve called the constable because they can’t find him, until he emerges singing from the cellar. He’s mended the kite and asks Jane and Michael to join him. Mrs. Banks adds a sash for a tail and they are all excited to Let’s Go Fly a Kite, an absolutely heartwarming number. The wind has changed, and it’s time for Mary Poppins to go. The children are sad at first that she’s leaving, but their father’s good mood cheers them up and Mary leaves once the family does. Bert nods to her and she smiles at her friend. Her talking parrot umbrella insists that Mary Poppins does love the children, but she states it is proper that they love their father. “Practically perfect people never permit sentiment to muddle their thinking,” and she rises back to the clouds.
Mary Poppins is a lovely family film and is cherished in our home. We did watch the late sequel, Mary Poppins Returns, which stars Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda, with appearances by Dick Van Dyke, Angela Landsbury, Ben Whishaw, Julie Walters, Colin Firth, and Meryl Streep. Did not like it. It was trying too hard and didn’t have the charm that the original had; there’s just no repeating the magic.
Up Next: The last musical, The Sound of Music