You know how politicians are always saying lately that we don’t need to just worry about helping the people on Wall Street, we need to help the people on Main Street? Well one time I was at Disneyland, walking down Main Street when suddenly Mary Poppins rushed by with an entourage of kids trying to get her autograph. Not the real Mary Poppins, (because she is a fictional character in my opinion) and not Julie Andrews, but the Disneyland Mary Poppins. And I was surprised to find myself thinking you know what, Mary Poppins is kind of hot. Nobody wants to get to an age where you start to think a nanny from an old Disney movie is kind of hot, but it happens to the best of us.
And it was kind of like a door opened up there full of new possibilities, because then I realized actually back then Julie Andrews was kind of hot too, not just modern day Disneyland Mary Poppins. And she had those little hats and a talking umbrella and shit. I know alot of men are intimidated by women who are more capable than them, but I would not be against dating somebody who can fly and sit on a cloud. I don’t know what her capacity is for carrying other people and putting them on clouds and all that, I guess that would have to be addressed. But it’s pretty cool that she can do that. I would call that a point in her favor.
Well I apologize if this information shatters any illusions about what a hardcase I am, but recently I watched the movie Walt Disney’s Mary Poppins showing at a local theater. Long story. But that was kind of a revelation too because I never really gave it much thought before, but I realized this is a pretty fuckin good movie as far as that type of thing goes.
If you haven’t seen it before or don’t remember it too well, Andrews plays Mary Poppins, magical nanny riding carousel horses etc.
There’s a famous scene where Mary interacts with animated penguins and what not, but even apart from that this is the Disney live actionmovie that’s most integrated with their world of animation. Everything in the movie from Mary’s costumes to the house with sails and a cannon on top to the stylized London cityscape looks like it was designed and manufactured by Disney artists. No half assing it. And then it’s got those catchy songs, and they go off into magical worlds inside a chalk painting, they do a dance number on the roof, they get covered in ash but not in a WAR OF THE WORLDS type of way. So it’s easy to see why everybody is charmed by this movie.
But what I noticed this time is there’s more going on than that. Even taking out the fantasy elements, the whole idea of this movie is alien to me. I don’t know about you, but I never knew anybody that had a nanny. I don’t live in a place where people hire other people to raise their kids for them. The parents in this movie are sympathetic, but they’re stupid. The dad, obviously, is too obsessed with his job at the bank, he is not good to his family and has to learn his lesson.
(See, you thought that first sentence where I mentioned Main Street/Wall Street made no sense, but now you go back and it turns out I was making this Disneyland reference but then also I was laying the groundwork to start talking about the themes of the movie and see we got this banker, that’s where the Wall Street comes in, and there’s this whole thing going on with the gap between the classes… go ahead and take a minute for it to sink in there, I don’t want anybody minds to explode from how deep it is. So ease into it please.)
The mom is cool because she’s really into the women’s suffrage movement, she comes home and sings a song to her maids to get them riled up about women’s rights and how they must fight to create a better world for their daughters. But then as soon as she hears her husband she puts all the paraphernalia away and warns everybody to shut up. “You know how Mr. Banks feels about the movement.” She reminds me of people today who are really excited about the environment or stopping the war or something and their hearts are in the right place but it’s really more of a hobby and a series of bumperstickers than something they’re going to put themselves on the line for.
We never hear Mary comment on the women’s suffrage movement, and it’s almost like she doesn’t need it because she’s such a strong and self assured woman, she clearly does what she wants and takes absolutely no shit from anybody, knowing exactly how to manipulate her boss to get what she wants with minimal confrontation. On the other hand she can’t vote, so she should probaly use her magic powers to improve Mrs. Banks’s rallies or something.
But the movie is more about class than about gender. Little Jane and Michael are these rich kids but they hate being nannied, they like to run off late at night, it’s how they cry out for attention. And the interesting thing is that all their friends are the servants and the working class – the maids, the chimney sweeps, the street performer, the beat cop. Bert changes jobs every day which makes him adventurous but also suggests things aren’t easy for some people as they are for the Banks family. He’s always hustling for a buck and making the world happier, like with his sidewalk drawings, but he’s never gonna own a house and a nanny and an army of maids. When he does his one-man-band gig in the park the rich people stand around, delighted, and then when he holds out his hat they won’t make eye contact and they suddenly have to go polish their money or something.
But the lives of the working class are like a thrilling adventure to the children. While the bankers sit in their heavily staffed homes worrying about work, the chimney sweeps are having a huge dance party on their roofs, enjoying an incredible view of London that the bosses will never get to see. Maybe there’s a sense of tourism there, these kids hang out with the workers but go home to a comfy bed. But the chimney sweeps also get Mary’s endorsement. She’s of the servant class like they are but she literally lives on a cloud and seems to control her own destiny (and has some pretty nice dresses) so she could probaly be out on the town with some handsome rich fuck if she wanted. Instead she’s on the roof with them or in the park with Bert.
The other thing going on is there’s this whole sad undercurrent to the movie. As much as it’s about fun and songs and better parenting and what not, there’s also an element or two of tragedy and unrequited love and shit. Because first of all, Bert is clearly infatuated with Mary Poppins. We got no idea where he knows her from or how long it’s been since he’s seen her, because she lives the lifestyle of a nomad, a drifter or a cloudsitter. But when she shows up he’s so fuckin happy, and he sings this song “Jolly Holiday” about how much he likes being with her. You don’t sing about holding somebody’s hand and how your heart “starts beatin’ like a big brass band” if you’re not enamored of the lady. And in case you don’t get the picture he starts listing off all the other gals he’s been with and how they’re not as good as Mary – I count twenty names.
And why not? Mary is a fun lady. You’re telling me you wouldn’t want to hang around with her? This is not an ENCHANTED situation where she talks to birds and doesn’t know better. Mary Poppins can talk to birds AND fit into modern society. She can make a carousel horse go rogue, she can make a plume of chimney smoke into stairs. That’s what she does when she’s on the job, taking care of kids. But she also enjoys rum. Who knows what she does in a 21 and over type situation. So of course Bert wants to have as many jolly holidays with her as he can get.
But Mary tries to play it like she thinks they’re just friends, she praises Bert for not wanting to “press his advantage.” And she’s not blind, she fuckin knows the poor guy is crazy for her. But she doesn’t tell him “I don’t like you that way,” she just kind of feigns ignorance.
I’m not trying to accuse Mary Poppins of being a tease. For a minute I did think this was pretty cold for her to string him along like they’re on this date when clearly he has strong feelings and she pretends not to notice. But maybe there’s a good reason for this when you consider the other tragic part of the movie. For some reason Mary has resigned herself to this life of traveling around helping families. She becomes closer to these kids than they are to their own parents, then as soon as there’s an improvement she leaves. And she acts like she doesn’t care but there’s one shot where she’s looking out the window as the dad is finally shaping up with the kids and she looks like she’s holding back tears. But not “that’ll do pig” type happy emotional tears. She loves these kids and wants to stay but her own happiness is not the priority for her. She sacrifices herself to go around helping these rich people.
Who knows how long she’s been flying around doing this, making a difference, and probaly breaking the hearts of Berts all around the world. I’m sure she could list off twenty dudes too. But since she knows she has to leave maybe it’s for the best. Maybe she even loves Bert back, but she can’t tell him that and then fly away. She doesn’t want to be a deadbeat.
I wonder what made Mary Poppins this way? Did she have shitty parents who didn’t pay attention to her in a cloud mansion somewhere? So she’s like Batman, she has to dedicate her life to a mad crusade to prevent this from happening to other kids? I don’t know. But she feels strongly about it. No wonder when the day is gray and ordinary Mary makes the sun shine bright. I mean I don’t know what value there is in this but I saw the movie and it hit me pretty hard, I was thinking about it so I thought I would mention these things.
Nah, I don’t really like it though, that was all a big joke. right guys? who likes that kind of crap anyway. Not us right guys
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.