In a fit of nostalgia, I re-watched Mary Poppins the other evening. As a child, I loved the story (both the book and the movie) but as a grownup, of course, there’s so much I missed.
The Disney movie is a work of art that combines live-action and animation. Shot entirely in California, meticulously created matt paintings bring 1910 Edwardian London to life. We step willingly into the fantasy on screen. Mary Poppins is as real as the chalkboard painting she enters with Bert and the two children, Jane and Michael. At least, that’s how we choose to see it.
Choosing perspective is one of the main themes of the story.
Life is lived and enjoyed depending on how you decide to look at things. George Banks (the father) is considered a man at the top of his game; after all, he’s moving up the ladder as a London banker. But Bert, the lowly chimney sweep, has a different perspective. Society may view him “on the bottom most rung,” but as he explains to the children, “the one who my heart goes out for is your father. There he is in that cold, heartless bank day after day, hemmed in by mounds of cold, heartless money. I don’t like to see any living thing caged up.”
So who’s got the better life, the banker or the chimney sweep?
And then there’s the famous scene where the children dance with Bert and Mary Poppins across the roofs of London; many would say, a dingy place, blackened with smoke. The chimney sweeps, however, see it as the most beautiful place in the city “What did I tell ya? There’s the whole world at your feet. And who gets to see it? But the birds, the stars, and the chimney sweeps.”
A different perspective also makes it possible for people to open up, let go. The children, Bert, Mary Poppins and Uncle Albert end up on the ceiling drinking tea because they simply can’t stop laughing. At first they resist, just like many resist seeing the lighter side of life. You know the type – they scowl, they frown, they mutter, “that’s not funny.” But once they lighten up, it’s impossible to fight the feeling they get. Who wouldn’t choose life on the ceiling!
Change your perspective, of course, and change becomes possible. A change in the wind brings Mary Poppins to the Bank’s home in the first place (and a change tells her it’s time to leave). Even Mrs. Banks is counting on change when she marches to get women the vote.
And in the end, of course, George changes. With a new perspective, he notices the bird woman on the steps of St. Paul’s, he sees the pettiness of his bank colleagues, and most of all, he realizes that what appears foolish and wasteful on the surface, is often what brings light and love into the world.
I’ll stop here, as there is too much to say, and at some point, its best just to enjoy, not over analyze. …. Another lesson from our favourite nanny:
George: Will you be good enough to explain all this?
Mary Poppins: First of all I would like to make one thing quite clear.
Mary Poppins: I never explain anything.
Mary Poppins is widely considered to be Walt Disney’s crowning live-action achievement, his only film to gain a Best Picture nomination at the Oscars in his lifetime.