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Mary Poppins

January 9, 2014

Last weekend we went to see Saving Mr. Banks, and I enjoyed it hugely. The first movie I ever saw was Mary Poppins; it was several years later that I discovered there were books. As a kid, I loved the story about popping into paintings and the one about the gingerbread stars. As a parent, I was charmed all over again, reading the stories to my kids. Eleanor, in particular, delighted in Mary Poppins’ curt replies to questions she didn’t want to answer.

After they’d read Mary Poppins, Mary Poppins Comes Back, Mary Poppins Opens the Door, and Mary Poppins in the Park, we showed our kids the movie and took them to see the stage musical in Chicago. We had a Mary Poppins cookbook, Mary Poppins in the Kitchen, from which we made Welsh Rarebit. My favorite story as an adult is from Mary Poppins Opens the Door, about the Cat that Looked at a King.

Especially because of the curt replies and unwillingness to explain or elaborate on her refusals, Mary Poppins has always reminded me of my mother. So I am more fond of the character of Mary Poppins than I’ve found other people tend to be. photo-249

I reacted the same way to Saving Mr. Banks—with recognition and delight at the way the character of P.L. Travers reacts to the rest of the world—mostly in terms of not having much use for it. She was a bit of a termadgeon, which is my invented word combining curmudgeon and termagant. In the movie, Mrs. Travers does not approve of invented words, commanding the user of one to “un-invent it.”

I’ve also been leafing through the Christmas books and those unpacked from our travels in a mostly desultory way, reading a bit here and there, re-reading parts I’d mostly forgotten, and occasionally looking up from one—like Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None—to find I’d read the whole thing through again. I didn’t remember much from my first reading except that I’d thought the plot was terribly clever. This time through, though, I found myself much less in sympathy with the idea of anyone sitting in judgment on other people.

Many of the reviews of Saving Mr. Banks mention that P.L. Travers appears “cranky” and “self-centered.” I believe it’s the New Yorker that gets it closest to right, saying that Travers “was a self-conscious, self-aware, free-thinking artist whose personal life couldn’t have been more different from Disney’s normative sentimentalism.”  It may be startling, but it was more than merely “cranky” for Travers—or her character, or my mother–to go her own way and not care what other people think.

There is a certain mind-set I get into when I’ve read a book and sit down to collect my thoughts, and I’ve not been inclined to bend my head to that yoke lately; our holidays have been prolonged by the continued presence of adult children to talk to, cook for, and share books and movies with. I have indulged in a prolonged abnegation of  my usual rounds for reading and writing, and an unwillingness to explain.

And that’s certainly more than you needed to know.

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26 Comments leave one →
  1. January 10, 2014 6:43 am

    I remember seeing Mary Poppins in the theater as a very young child. We all went for ice cream after the movie and my mother had my brother and me close our eyes so we too could float. She and whomever else was with us (not my father, they were divorced, not my stepfather, she hadn’t met him yet, but I don’t remember who it was) tried to convince us that we were floating. As much as I wanted to believe (and I did), I could feel the hardness of the bench I was sitting on and I knew I wasn’t. I was so disappointed.

    • January 14, 2014 8:49 am

      Humph. It’s that kind of wishing that gives real magic a bad name.

  2. January 10, 2014 11:15 am

    I am really excited to see Saving Mr. Banks. :)

    • January 14, 2014 8:49 am

      I’ll look forward to hearing what you think of it!

  3. January 10, 2014 12:36 pm

    A film I might actually see (they are few and far between!) and so I’m delighted you enjoyed it. I am very attracted by the thought of ‘a self-conscious, self-aware, free-thinking artist whose personal life couldn’t have been more different from Disney’s normative sentimentalism’. Yes, I’d pay good money to hear more about that. :)

    • January 14, 2014 8:54 am

      Since coming home from London, Eleanor has been delighted at the low cost of seeing movies here. It’s not as much of an investment. How “free-thinking” Travers was is only hinted at in the movie. I personally found a scene in which she sleeps with a stuffed animal the most unrealistic. I’m convinced that, consistent with an earlier scene, she had no use for such things.

  4. Phyllis permalink
    January 10, 2014 1:36 pm

    Mary Poppins was one of my absolute favorite books as a child. I loved it all over again when I read it to my child (and husband!) several years ago. I’m looking forward to the movie. Seeing your mom as MP made my day!

    • January 14, 2014 8:57 am

      My mom had traveled with the bag she’s holding all over Europe and the US for two decades, and when she came to visit my brother or me, we would comment on the resemblance. Last spring, when I’d given her the parrot-headed umbrella and the hat, she put on her raincoat and posed for the photo, which Eleanor photoshopped onto the sky background.

  5. January 10, 2014 2:02 pm

    I’m not sure if Mary Poppins is the first movie I saw but I know it’s the first movie I remember seeing and I adored it. The memories of that day are very vivid in my mind. I went to see Saving Mr. Banks yesterday and I’m wondering if I ever read Mary Poppins. I know I want to read it now.

    • January 14, 2014 8:59 am

      If the movie causes a resurgence of popularity for the books, that would be a great thing! I particularly liked the way Travers objected to the animated sequences in the movie, because as a child I reacted the same way; I never have liked animation.

  6. January 11, 2014 3:32 pm

    my child & husband saw that last week – he really liked it and thought i would too…perhaps when it comes to video…

    • January 14, 2014 9:00 am

      It would be fine on video, I think. The scenes of Travers’ childhood won’t be as big and sweeping, but you’ll get the gist.

  7. January 13, 2014 1:38 pm

    I thought it was a very good movie–especially Colin Farrell and Ruth Wilson, who keeps popping up in a lot of movies. I have never read the books and would love to do so.

    • January 14, 2014 9:01 am

      I was surprised at how charming I found Colin Farrell. There’s a first time for everything.

  8. January 13, 2014 4:36 pm

    I was one of “those” kids who detested the Julie Andrews, “spoonful of sugar” Mary Poppins. I had read all the books, several times, and thought that the movie would be about THAT Mary P., the one that was curt and mean and interesting. Crushing disappointment (that I had to hide from my darling grandmother, who treated me to the movie AND lunch out.) I like the movie better as an adult, but it is still overhung by that first huge disappointment. I like what you say about Travers – a refreshing take on her – I am totally on her side vs. Walt Disney. The Disney Poppins was so saccharine – only the music salvages the movie for me.

    • January 14, 2014 9:04 am

      See, another reason you should never read the book before seeing the movie! For me, it was fun to read the books and discover that Mary Poppins was more than a pretty face. It was like character development.

  9. January 14, 2014 7:13 am

    I think I saw the film too much as a child so I do avoid it nowadays. The actual story and the author herself, however, I’m still interested in. I didn’t know there was a new ‘version’ out; I like the cast list.

    • January 14, 2014 9:05 am

      This version is the story of Walt Disney courting P.L Travers for the rights to make the movie. I don’t always like the story of the author behind a beloved fictional character, but I did like this one.

  10. January 14, 2014 3:45 pm

    I love the picture of your mother –

  11. January 16, 2014 8:06 pm

    I never read the Mary Poppins books as a kid, but my mom loved this movie and so we watched it many times. I can’t wait to see Saving Mr. Banks with my mom — I think she will love it.

    • January 16, 2014 10:01 pm

      Since the Mary Poppins books are comprised of short stories, you could try one or two…they’re fun for adults.

  12. January 16, 2014 10:41 pm

    I am really hoping to re-view the original before I see the Saving Mr. Banks. I’m fascinated. Like BermudaOnion, I remember adoring the original Mary Poppins movie as what? a 4 yo, maybe? and don’t think I ever saw it again. I read the original BOOK immediately upon seeing that the recent movie was being released and loved it.

    And, you might appreciate this: my mom tells me that I laughed hard at the Bambi movie while my older brother cried. I really don’t recall too much about movie going as a kid. I loved the intermissions; playing in the aisles, I think?

  13. January 19, 2014 2:15 am

    I was a strange child. I never recovered when Walt killed Bambi’s mom. And since I’d had my nose in a book since before I was in school, I had read all the stories the Disney movies were based on, and knew he’d gotten them all wrong. My parents thought they were doing a good thing by convincing me it wasn’t a mistake but that he did it on purpose … so … well, I never had much use for Disney.

    • January 19, 2014 7:55 pm

      This movie will definitely not change your mind. The only time I remember having the reaction that Disney had gotten it “all wrong” was when I saw The Little Mermaid and discovered that the Disney mermaid didn’t pay a price for the rest of her life whenever she took a step.

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