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Virgin Viewing: ‘Mary Poppins’

Posted by on April 26, 2011 0 Comment

So far in this feature, I’ve covered a pretty broad range of film genres, from action/adventure to classic romance. But I realized that one genre had been sorely neglected – Disney movies. So I put it to a vote, and you guys selected Mary Poppins as the movie to watch. I admit that I was a little bummed that my personal choice, Winnie the Pooh, didn’t win, but it’s not like I’ll never have the opportunity to see it.

There are certain conventions that you just have to embrace when watching a Disney movie, including an angelic main character. While we know from the beginning of the movie that Mary Poppins is “practically perfect in every way,” as an adult I kept finding myself rolling my eyes at Mary’s sainthood. I mean, an entire song about how great she is and how much everyone loves her? I love Julie Andrews too, but it was a bit excessive. This might have to do with what it’s like to be a 21st-century viewer: I like my heroes and heroines a little flawed. I came of age in a culture where intellectual, unconventionally handsome Tobey Maguire and Christian Bale are superheroes instead of perfect, muscled traditional macho men. There’s something about Mary Poppins that almost pulls her into Mary Sue territory.

If not for (spoiler alert!) the moment at the end of the movie when she gets emotional about leaving the Banks family, I might not have been able to stand her. That’s probably a horrible, jaded thing to say – I know that this movie is for children, and I’m sure my younger self would have wanted to be just as perfect and winsome as Mary. But the adult version of me found her entirely unrelatable. It is, after all, a fantasy story, and Mary is a fantasy character. But the grownup me felt really sorry for Bert and his obvious unrequited love for Mary.

Once I put my jadedness aside, I can see why this is such a wonderful, eternal movie. Everything Dick Van Dyke does is delightful (with the possible exception of his Cockney accent), especially the penguin dance. I can’t believe that he didn’t have formal dance training before doing this movie. (I highly recommend watching the making-of featurette that comes with some versions of the movie – it’s really cool to see everyone years later and hear about how they achieved all the groundbreaking special effects. My favorite anecdote was about how they got the “London skyline” scene by painting on glass and then chipping pieces away for lights to shine through.) The mix of live action and animation still works after all these years. For a few moments, I was captivated by the magic of the whole thing, the feeling of youthful innocence and exuberance.

And I still really, really wish someone would take me to have tea on the ceiling. Agencies

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