It’s been years since I’ve seen Mary Poppins, and my expectations were low, as many of my childhood favorites don’t stand up to the test of time (see: Tarzan, the Legend of Greystoke). But Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke provide timeless delight here as the legendary, magical nanny and the chimney sweep who sing, dance, and teach their way through Walt Disney’s adaptation of P. L. Travers’ story. Along the way, they’ll bring a family together, teach a community to laugh, and provide us with some toe-tapping tunes.
Not one for musicals, I found myself delighting in “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” and “Chim Chim Cher-ee” all over again. Having won Academy Awards for the second, for Andrews’ role, and three others, the film received critical acclaim then, and still moves adults (me) and children (who danced around). The music certainly adds a dimension here that is often missing in today’s attempts at similar work. It’s possibly because for Mary Poppins, the music is integral to the flow of the story, while now, it’s often an afterthought.
Still, I’m no musical expert, and stories are my “game.” While there’s beauty in the music, there’s an astounding set of lessons wrapped up in this tale about a magical nanny who arrives as the result of the Banks’ children’s plea for a friendly nanny. First, there’s the problem of Mr. Banks: he’s so straightforward that he can’t even begin to appreciate a joke his children tell about a Mr. Smith because they don’t know anyone by that name. (He’s also too self-consumed to see the value(s) in feeding the birds!) His joy has been stolen along the way, and it’s the intrusion of Mary Poppins that slowly helps him get it back. Second, as a corollary, Mr. Banks’ devotion to his work has blinded him to the childhood of his children. It’s not just that he’s so joyless but that his slavery to his job (and his worry about the future) have a stranglehold on how he sees the world. Third, there’s the fragmentation of the family, where the Banks’ have abdicated their responsibility in raising their children to a string of nannies who have never cared about their kids, but merely performed a job/service.
Do any of those cause a “palm-face” moment for you? Have you lost sight of your joy and your ability to laugh? Too often, it happens without us even thinking about it, because it’s gradual and corrosive. How about your relationship to your job? Is the fear of the future so consuming that you can’t “stop and smell the roses,” or enjoy your family? Are you letting someone else do the heavy lifting in regards to your children, whether it’s daycare, or school teachers, or Sunday School workers? Are you involved in “raising your children in the way that they should go” (Proverbs 22:6)?
What would happen if we really considered Matthew 6:26 and recognized that our worrying, our obsessing, over money and our futures never really results in our enjoying the present? If only their were magical nannies to light the way for all of us! We need to rediscover our joy in our appreciation of life and love and family. Even if we see that these have been robbed from us, there’s no excuse not to claim them back, to redeem them from wherever they’ve been taken. Because if it’s not too late for Mr. Banks, it’s not too late for us.
This fiftieth anniversary edition includes the Blu-ray, DVD, and digital version, as well as a series of features about the making of the movie. The tie-ins include an interview by Jason Schwartzman (who plays the composer of the songs in Saving Mr. Banks) of the actual Richard Sherman, who composed the songs for Mary Poppins. Fans of all ages will enjoy the “Mary-oke,” the song that didn’t make the final cut (“Chimpanzoo”), a conversation among Van Dyke, Andrews, and Sherman, and a “making of” take.