December 24, 2004


Poppins on the Loose: Lock Up Your Children (VIRGINIA HEFFERNAN, 12/24/04, NY Times)

Mary Poppins, in memory, is the ideal nanny. With her cartoony eyelashes, slightly Carnaby style and jauntily splayed feet, she delivers that polemic about sugar, turns chores into pleasure and wins infatuated devotion from her charges. The mother is not threatened by her, the father is not attracted to her and - all in all - the Poppins stint with the Banks family is the most edifying nanny story in a genre that is currently characterized by tales of anxiety and woe.

That's at least how I remember Walt Disney's "Mary Poppins," which had its premiere in 1964 and went on to win five Academy Awards. The reality is somewhat different. If it's been awhile, see for yourself on the Disney Channel, which will televise the remastered version in convenient time for the movie's 40th anniversary, the release of the DVD and a new musical that opened earlier this month in London.

In this trippy, effects-heavy, pro-pollution movie - soot is a source of great amusement - the nanny does indeed represent a blessing for Mr. and Mrs. Banks, but not because she's good at her work (you even get the feeling it's not a career with her), but because she whisks the kids out of their hair and then manipulates the parents into changing their ways. [...]

Mary's first shortcoming as a nanny, in fact, is that she ignores the lady of the house, Mrs. Winifred Banks (Glynis Johns), with whom she never shares a significant scene. She evidently doesn't take Mrs. Banks's political activism seriously. Mrs. Banks is a saucer-eyed, doll-faced "suffragette," copiously satirized, whose opening number is about the silly thrill of feminine civil disobedience. "She was carried off to prison!" she trills, of a friend. "Singing and scattering pamphlets the whole way!"

Though like Mrs. Banks, Mary Poppins wears the bloomers that define her as uppity, nothing she does suggests an opinion on suffrage, and her creed of cheerful duty suggests that she thinks her trouble-making patroness is wasting time.

The indictment of the father's materialism and the mother's political activism being further proof that all comedy is conservative.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 24, 2004 9:19 AM

Bashing Disney is a tradition among liberal elites that dates all the way back to his 1940 battle against unionizing the studio, though I'll admit this one from the Times is different, in that is seems to be claiming a laxity from the left by Walt in Mary's permisivness with the kids.

On the other hand, since the film was being made pre-Beatles invasion in 1963, Ms. Heffernan's hippie references are slightly out-of-place and a bit like putting the Ragtime era in the late 1890s because that's close enough to the right date anyway, and it's too long ago for people to remember the differences. (The reason it was splashed with color in 1964 is because color was still a relative luxury in motion pictures at that time and in the disticnt minority among TV shows -- Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color being one of the few exceptions. Any major process effort with live action and animation in 1964 was going to be rife with bright colors, especially in a kids movie.)

Posted by: John at December 24, 2004 10:06 AM