Revisiting Mary Poppins
Last week I visited the Walt Disney Family Museum to catch an on the big screen showing of the classic Disney film MARY POPPINS. The museum offers a daily screening of a different Disney film each month, and I was very pleased that Poppins was chosen for this month. I’d wanted to attend one of the screenings ever since the museum opened in October, 2009, but was unable to find a film that caught my interest until now.
It’s a fascinating exercise to revisit a childhood favorite film in the present day. I used to watch Mary Poppins quite frequently, especially around Kindergarten and 1st grade, but its popularity faded for me as time went on. Coming back to it now, I notice all the subtleties and brilliance of the film. It’s an amazing technical achievement for its time, with the music, animation and stellar performances all around. The use of matte paintings is awkwardly obvious in a way that the child audience would not notice … but I feel that the animation more than makes up for it.
I notice the melancholia that reverberates from the film as one makes the mental transition from 1964 back to 2011. It’s true that the enduring artistic legacy of the film continues and is now represented with the Poppins musical. (Incidentally, that show premiered in London on December 15, 2004, and I should have gone, as it was my last day of drama school… but I was getting ready to tour the European continent.)
But there’s another side and that’s where the melancholy feel comes in. Disney himself passed away just two years later. Matthew Garber, aka Michael Banks, died in 1977 at a very young age. Julie Andrews lost the use of her magnificent singing voice in the late 1990’s. The Sherman Brothers, composers of the unforgettable musical melodies, were in fact bitter rivals – a detail that has only recently been revealed.
Nonetheless, the kindness of the film stands out. I felt grateful to be reminded of the happiness and creativity that exudes from a film like this. I notice that the Disney films from the mid 1960’s, including my personal favorite THAT DARN CAT, all have a similar maturity and integrity with their storytelling… in a way that does not exist in the cinemas today.