Mary Poppins pulls out the tape measure to see how Jane and Michael “measure up”, and subsequently, they ask her to do it to herself. Apparently she’s “practically perfect in every way”, but really, I beg to differ. I think Mary Poppins is actually a bit self-involved, judgmental, and definitely a buzzkill.
Don’t get me wrong – I adore “Mary Poppins”, but contrary to the song Bert sings, every day is not a holiday with Mary. She commandeers the nanny job by physically “blowing away” all the other applicants, wins the merry-go-round horse race by making the other riders demur, and always cuts short the adventure just when it’s getting fun.
In my house, there are two things Lucy likes to mess with. I have a convertible Carolina blue VW bug alarm clock with headlights that come on when the radio plays. We also have a heavy-duty box-cutting knife that is festooned with pink flowers. It’s hard to take ourselves seriously when I tell her to “put my pink flower knife away” or “stop playing with my baby-blue blinking-light radio car toy”.
In the same vein, it’s a little hard to take Mary Poppins’ admonitions seriously, when they’re all occurring in a crazy magical cartoon landscape she created. When she says, “Honestly Bert, you’re as bad as the children,” maybe Bert should have said, “well, Mary, perhaps you shouldn’t have allowed us all to jump into my sidewalk chalk drawing and go on an acid-inspired fox hunt.”
And yet, you have to hand it to Mary – when she disappears for the last third of the movie, it gets boring fast. The movie is called “Mary Poppins”, not “My Dad’s Bank Freakout”. Besides, there’s some crazy unspoken sexual dynamic between Mary and Bert, and all he gets is a sad wave from about 11,000 feet.
All the best children’s movies have a heart of darkness – think the original “Willy Wonka” and even “Escape From Witch Mountain”. With the chimney sweeps scampering like brilliant rats upon the rooftops, the rain ruining dream sequences like tears of blue, red and green – and even Mary herself being, at heart, supremely scary with her flying umbrella and bizarre feet position – this isn’t so much a movie as a gorgeous hallucination.
But let’s be honest. “Practically perfect in every way?” I think we all know it should read “Very Beautiful, Very British and Vaguely Creepy.”