Last week, on a day off from school for teacher planning, or something, I took my daughter to a daytime performance of Mary Poppins. It was the Broadway version and it was the highlight of her fall so far. And mine, let’s just be honest here. I love Mary Poppins. I love her ridiculous hat and I love her aphorisms (“enough is as good as a feast,” “we are not a codfish,” and so forth have been known to spill forth from my own lips) and I love her Firm But Kind style of child-rearing. And my daughter loves her too.
Mary Poppins is super silly. But she also, especially in Julie Andrews’ portrayal, is a serious escape for a kid who really does not like to listen to authority. I wrote about why in this post from last year, and please forgive me for running it again because I am sick and anyway it’s been on my mind.
In the world of Mary Poppins, my daughter doesn’t have to simply listen to adults and our rules. In that world, authority figures seem strict, but they are actually magical beings who provide weird and happy experiences, usually including animals. In that world, a kid can clean up her room by sheer magic! Cast off the shackles of yesterday, indeed.
I have watched Mary Poppins with my daughter approximately 367 times since March, and I’ve realized something. My daughter loves it for more than the animation, the silly songs, and the grace and wit of the inimitable Julie Andrews (whom none of us deserves). I think she loves it because the movie appeals, in grinning Technicolor, to a kid’s natural sense of anarchy. Mary Poppins is a gloriously leftist fantasy and I am here for it.
Several “plot” points in Mary Poppins are slightly disturbing, if you think about them for a minute and through a very 2018 lens. For instance, it starts out with the Banks parents unaware of their children’s whereabouts, because the father has been at work and the mother has been likewise absent from the home. But then! We quickly realize Mrs. Banks has not been working, nor out buying groceries or cooking dinner, but attending a suffragist march, where several of her friends are arrested and thrown in jail. #Resist As Mrs. Banks explains, while enlisting the household employees in song: “Though we adore men individually, we agree that as a group they’re rather stupid.” #MeToo but also #notallmen
In short order, we discover that the free-range Banks kids were out scampering in the park with a kite they made themselves. #Crafty! They are returned home by a gracious policeman, who mildly judges Mr. Banks for not being kind to his kids but does not call social services.
Meanwhile the nanny quits, as is her right, because the kids were too much trouble. The Banks parents decide to hire someone new, seeking a nanny who can tutor the kids as well as take care of them. #Tigerparents The kids have their own ideas — or maybe the universe does? Some deus ex machina ensures the kids’ plaintive request for someone who will “never smell of barley water” and “never be cross or cruel” lands in the magical, gloved hands of Mary Poppins. She arrives after all the other nanny applicants are literally blown away — like, by the wind.
Here are some of the absurdly anarchical, plot-free things that ensue:
— Mary Poppins takes Jane and Michael to meet a street performer of questionable employment status, who offers to take them on a journey to an unknown land. This sounds like something that would prompt law enforcement action, no?
— Mary Poppins works her magic to take the kids to the English countryside, where she promptly loses sight of them. This is not by accident, but because she and her street-artist friend encourage them to run off down the road unsupervised (again). Meanwhile she and Bert go on a lunch date, whereupon he serenades the wait staff with a song comparing Mary to a long list of prior lovers. Mary is outraged, but at least she gets a free meal out of the deal. Thanks, penguins.
— The kids reappear after some unknown time, happily riding a merry-go-round. When Mary frees the horses and they ride away, the first thing they do is interfere with a fox hunt, that cruel pastime of the landed gentry. The fox speaks with an Irish accent and recognizes Burt’s free steed as an “immigrant.” Within moments, the crew has saved the fox and Mary has won a horse race. It’s supercalifragilisticexpialadocious!
— There’s a random guy who laughs so much that he and his furniture float into the air. This scene is weird and I always found it annoying as a kid, but you know what, the message is good! Laughing is good for you.
— Later, Mary Poppins encourages young Michael, a banker’s son, to give his worldly funds to a slightly deranged-looking woman whose sole aim is providing food for beggar pigeons. #Birdrights Anyway, this causes a bank run.
— The unemployed street performer returns, filthy with soot, and we learn that he’s actually (also?) a freelance chimney sweep. He kindly takes the kids home, where Mrs. Banks says “uh, say, tall stranger, I have to leave again to go fight for voting rights, and oops it’s Mary Poppins’ day off. Would you mind staying here to clean the chimney and babysit?” He isn’t alone with Jane and Michael for long, because Mary returns (on her day off) to accompany them on an extremely dangerous, vertiginous tour of London rooftops at dusk. This all seems very unsafe, but hey, there is a musical number! And at least they see the sunset and the stars.
— The dad loses his job, because bank run, and then he gets the joke. The really bad one about a man with a prosthetic device. But anyway he realizes the meaning of life is laughing with your children. And then they all go fly a kite! While singing!
It’s the best movie of all time, is what I am saying.
Image: Flickr user Y’amal (CC BY 2.0)