August 30th, 2007

New Tilley Hat

Mary Poppins: The Boomer Musical

This is the 8/27/07 Baron Dave Bartcop-E column, slightly rewritten and updated now that I've gone through the Bonus Disc.

Watching childhood favorites for the first time as an adult is an iffy proposition, as not everything I enjoyed as a kid stands up. But Mary Poppins not only holds up marvelously, it's better when seen from the other side of adulthood. Set in pre-WWI England and shown to pre-Vietnam kids who would soon be eligible for the draft, the movie tackles hard, adult questions but doesn't pretend to know any answers. Work ethic, discipline and tradition are important, but take a back seat to being part of your children's lives. The film is so well written that the Disneyeque ending doesn't seem tacked on or false. The music is as good as ever. Unless they snuck in an Easter Egg, I've now seen everything on both the main disc and the Bonus Disc.

Theme and Exegesis

When it comes to Movies That Are Better Than The Book, Mary Poppins is #1, #2 and #3.

I haven't seen the movie in over forty years, though I've heard the soundtrack a zillion times. I forgot just how magical it is, and how well the themes are developed and explored without a wasted motion. No villains! The protagonist is the father, who is a good man trying to do well by his family and largely succeeding... but needs Mary Poppins to show him where his true path lies. Extraordinary.

Where the PL Travers books are about a "mysterious, vain and acerbic magical English nanny", the movie is about What It Means To Be A Father. The books were written and take place in the 1930s but the film goes back to an earlier period. Disney had been negotiating for a film since 1938, and only when book sales declined in the 1950s did she agree, under certain conditions. Travers is listed as "Consultant" to the film, which has lots of scenes right from the books and more inspired by them. She had script approval, and insisted that Mary Poppins would be live action. Disney had to assure her his studios could handle a live-action film, and Mary Poppins is his first, though the animated underpinings still show. (It's been a long time since I read the books as well, inspired to so so by the film.) (Hmm... now that I think of it, Mary Poppins could teach at Hogwarts or be a Hufflepuff painting...)
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Mary Poppins is my favorite musical, beating out The Rocky Horror Picture Show (which probably tells you altogether too much about me) and one of my favorite movies of all time. It's not perfect, but I'd be hard pressed to point out where it's less than sublime. I'll give the practically perfect nanny a practically perfect score, and round up to perfect for the DVD extras. On the Shockwave Radio Theater rating of 9 to 23, Mary Poppins steps in time to a 23. What a great movie.