Archive for April 2014

Rediscovering Mary Poppins

April 16, 2014

Last night, my wife and I watched SAVING MR. BANKS and we both cried at the end because the characters and emotions felt genuine. I read the script months ago, and had the same reaction — even though I had already read reviews that criticized the film for taking liberties with the true story it was based on, especially in regards to the author, Pamela Travers (a pen name for her book and clue to what the movie is actually about). I loved the screenplay for what it is: a well-crafted blueprint for a crowd-pleasing Disney brand movie. The pages I read moved me enough that I decided to watch the original MARY POPPINS before SAVING MR. BANKS was available on Netflix.

When MP was released in 1964, I was 7-years-old and my memory of seeing the film in a theater is literally a blur because I was near-sighted, and would not wear glasses until I was 12 (didn’t want to be called “four-eyes”). For some reason, I didn’t really connect with it, although I did have a crush on Julie Andrews… even now when you watch that film, she’s absolutely beautiful on screen. After all these years though, I wasn’t sure how it would play.

The first thing that struck me in the opening was the tone. It’s a bit darker and more poignant than I recalled. It’s also very surreal. Right away, I was drawn into its strangely straight-laced yet anything-goes world. Before long, I was telling my wife this was the most creative, inventive movie I’ve seen in a long time — more so than any number of recent Hollywood blockbusters and Oscar-nominated films. We both had been lamenting the dearth of fun, imaginative movies and were disappointed by critics’ picks like AMERICAN HUSTLE, THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, NEBRASKA and AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY… all of which seemed overrated to me. (Too much “realness” when I’d rather find an escape from nasty, mean-spirited, profanity-laced harangues and plain old crankiness. Heck, I can get that at my own family gatherings so why would I want to pay to see it in a theater?)

The original MARY POPPINS is truly original in so many ways. Yeah, there are some numbers and scenes that could be trimmed a bit. But as I was watching it, I couldn’t help but wonder why they haven’t turned this into a Broadway Disney musical, now that the technology exists to do a lot of the movie magic on stage. For instance, a few years ago we saw SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE, in which the Seurat painting comes to life through the use of video backdrops. Imagine the sequence where Dick Van Dyke dances with the cartoon penguins, transferred to the stage with holographic penguins or some high tech animation. Or imagine what they could do with Mary Poppins gliding down from above, holding her magic umbrella… and later the “Go Fly a Kite” finale with kites flying above the audience! I’d pay Broadway ticket prices to see that.

CORRECTION: Turns out MP was adapted for the stage back in 2006 and had a fairly long run. Just goes to show how out of touch I am with Broadway theater! Apparently, the production received mixed reviews, but it sounds like the special effects were imaginative and impressive. Wished I had seen it back then!

Back to SAVING MR. BANKS: After seeing MARY POPPINS, I had an even greater appreciation for the writers of that movie who had to deal with the prickly Mrs. Travers in adapting her book. I think SMB captures the essence of their challenge and the central conflict between her attachment to the book versus the Hollywood writers’ task of making the material fresh and fun for American palates, while retaining enough of the book’s major elements to appease Mrs. T’s staunchest fans as well as her. The dialogue and lyrics are witty, full of clever word play, yet also hint at deeper emotions and themes related to childhood and growing up. If you’re going to see SMB, I recommend you add MP to your Netflix queue first because you only get a taste of the words, images and songs that make MP a classic worth revisiting.

I know purists will say SAVING MR. BANKS sugar-coated the real story, but isn’t that what MARY POPPINSĀ  is all about — a spoonful of sugar to make unpleasant realities go down a little easier?