From the List of Shame Files: Mary Poppins

Poppins-postSo many movies, so little time. We all have films we “should have” seen at some point in our lives, and most omissions can be justified. But even I can’t explain why I never saw Mary Poppins. I never watched it as a child, and when I became more cognizant of its existence as I got older, the less inclined I felt to watching it. Maybe it was my father, who told me that at the age of 17 he walked out of the film in the theater because the sight of cartoon penguins dancing was just too much for him. As last year’s Saving Mr. Banks showed, P.L. Travers would agree. Maybe I subconsciously thought the window of enjoyment for myself had come and gone. Ryan has been trying for years to get me to watch it, and my reply was always a “meh, later, put on Empire (because there is never a time I’m not in the mood for Star Wars).” 

It should be noted that I adore Julie Andrews. I mean who doesn’t? I think this is an even better singing performance for her than Sound of Music, and I love her as Fräulein Maria. But I actually didn’t feel much of a connection to the rest of her performance, or her relationship with the children. An argument could be made here that without a tie to my childhood, I really am watching this film from a completely objective vantage point that doesn’t have the luxury of nostalgia. That being said, I was thoroughly entertained by the cast, having recognized most of them from other Disney films including Pollyanna and the less popular but still amazing Thomasina. Mr. and Mrs. Banks, played by David Tomlinson and Glynis Johns are particularly humorous character actors. Perhaps the biggest surprise for me watching is how much of this film I considered “slow” for children, especially the “Tuppence” sequence. I can’t imagine kids today being able to watch this without feeling distracted and antsy. By the middle of the second act this film sheds most of the cartoons and becomes a musical more akin to Singing in the Rain, where the connective tissue between vignettes becomes stronger and further supports the main arc of the story.

I also appreciate the excellence in special effects Mary Poppins exhibits for the time. There is a particularly visually striking image during the rooftop dance sequence where Dick Van Dyke and a number of chimney sweeps run across rooftops against the backdrop of color fireworks.

I’m a sucker for Disney, so I knew I would like Mary Poppins, but it certainly is nowhere near my favorites. If anything, the experience watching the film made me think more of Andrews’ role in Sound of Music and her status as a proto-manic pixie dream girl in the lives of wealthy white aristocrats. But more than that, I’m convinced after watching that Mary Poppins is either a witch or The Doctor. Ryan makes a pretty good argument for the latter, an argument that may need embellishment in next week’s column.

Until then, happy viewing!

Author: Jill Malcolm

Jill is happiest attending midnight screenings with other crazy film fans at her local theater. Her other passions include reading, traveling to faraway places, cat videos, pugs, and jalapeño peppers. She is co-founder of the blog Filmhash.

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