Friday, May 25, 2012

Step (Back)-in-Time

Writing about Bedknobs and Broomsticks this week and comparing it to Mary Poppins reminded me of how long it had been since I had last seen it (at least 5 years).  I decided this was a crime somewhere and so I popped it in on Tuesday night...wow, what a difference several years of removal can make.  Some films do not age well over time and when you watch them older and wiser than you were before they are like eating a piece of day-old pizza.  Some of what you loved about it is still there, but mostly the excitement has faded and what you're left with is a bland and largely flavorless reminder that sometimes the moment makes the memory rather than the quality.  Some films, however, stand up to age and scrutiny and manage to constantly offer new nibbles of enlightenment for you to nibble on as you grow and change.  Mary Poppins is one of those films and it is with deep pleasure that I present it to you today.

Stormy weather is brewing at Number 17, Cherry Tree Lane.  While the children, Jane and Michael, are running about driving their nanny, Katie Nanna, crazy, the staff are grumpy, Mrs. Winifred Banks (the mother) is off running around with suffragette groups, and Mr. George Banks (the father) is busy trying to advance in his work at the bank.  The household is stretched tremendously thin and everyone is less than happy.  To make matters worse, Katie Nanna has resigned and now the Banks' are nanny-less.  George decides to take matters into his own hands and writes an advertisement for a slave-driver of a nanny, someone who will be a drill-Sergent to his (in his mind) poorly raised children.  Jane and Michael attempt to help by writing what they would like to see in a nanny (someone kind but firm, fun, and educational) but George tears it up and throws it into the fire.  Unbeknownst to him or anyone else in the house, those pieces of paper float up the chimney and out into the heavens and call forth (following a terrific wind that kicks a whole line of nasty nannies into the street) Mary Poppins, a practically perfect nanny in nearly every way.  Mary Poppins enters the house like a whirlwind and all of a sudden things are changing.  The children magically clean up their room, go on an outing in the park where they enter a chalk pavement-picture, and learn the meaning of Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious...all of which drives the serious and uptight Mr. Banks into an absolute frenzy.  All is not fun and games however and Mary seems interested in more than simply improving the children's mood...and as the winds begin to change around Number 17, Cherry Tree Lane, we are left to wonder if Mr. Banks will make the change as well.

Mary Poppins is an expertly crafted piece derived from the lengthy "Mary Poppins" book series by P.L. Travers.  It takes the best and most recognized magical bits from those books and strings them onto a simple yet intricate plot involving teaching a father to notice and love his own family for who they are and not who he would like them to be.  Many people still will tell you that Poppins is a children's movie, when very clearly the story is about adults who have lost their way.  Mr. and Mrs. Banks are not bad parents by any stretch of the imagination and they are operating upon societal norms at the time for raising children (leaving their care to a nanny while they conduct matters of business or running the house)...but they have become so immersed in their own wants and desires and so used to having a nanny that they have forgotten that they have a stake in the lives of these children too.  Mary Poppins does educate the children to make them respect their boundaries and how to have fun without causing a headache for the adults who care for them, but she also teaches Mr. and Mrs. Banks (George more so than Winifred) that they have to open their eyes and look around them once in awhile, to look past the ends of their noses (to paraphrase the wise Poppins).  I think it is this aspect that keeps the film from growing stale and old-fashioned...this continuing need to look around and take stock in our own lives so that we don't grow complacent nor will we inadvertently neglect those around us that we care about.  The wonderful performances and excellent music help to completely sell the story and to allow it to become somewhat epic (at 2 hours and 19 minutes) without feeling bloated or overlong.  Indeed, Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke are the best non-romantic duo ever put on film.  We feel like they could end up together because their chemistry is so amazing, and yet they keep things refreshingly platonic.  David Tomlinson is my favorite, however, not because he has to do anything as spectacular as Julie (who is indeed the glue that holds it all together) but because he takes a character like George Banks (who could have come off as completely unlikable and thus making his change at the end seem hackneyed) and makes him realistic, sympathetic, and, in the end, someone we can root for.  Overall, it is a great movie and classic for a reason.  It certainly always manages to elevate my mood, rather like lifting a kite into the air.

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