Who is Mary Poppins? And Why is She Singing That Song?

Opinion by Jim Denney

Let’s talk about Mary Poppins Returns. And if you haven’t seen it yet, relax — there will be no plot spoilers in this post.

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Bert and Mary Poppins perform a medley of songs from Walt Disney’s original Mary Poppins (1964) in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland in 2015. Photo: Jim Denney

I expected to love this new Poppins movie — and I did. Oddly, it is both a sequel and a remake of Walt Disney’s original Mary Poppins. It takes place a generation later than the first film, during the Great Depression, and the Banks children, Jane and Michael, are now grown. That makes it a sequel. Yet the film is structured like the original, which makes it feel like a remake.

Emily Blunt as Mary delivers a charming performance, a just-right balance of prim and prissy propriety along with wild and magical fun. She doesn’t try to mimic Julie Andrews but inhabits the role in her own practically perfect way.

The story, the casting, the performances, the music, it’s all wonderful. The ending? Joyous and just right. While there are no songs that lodge in your soul like “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” or “Just a Spoonful of Sugar,” the songs by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman (Hairspray) are wildly inventive toe-tappers.

I was, however, disappointed by one song in the film — “A Cover Is Not the Book.” Performed by Mary (Emily Blunt) and her lamplighter friend Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda), it’s probably the catchiest, most rollicking song in the movie. The lyrics will probably fly over the heads of most children and many adults, because it’s sung in a rapid-fire patter style. But the song is not about books. It’s about sex. It’s a series of double entendres strung together and set to lively music.

The problem for me is not merely that there is a bawdy song in a Mary Poppins movie. The problem is that the song violates the Mary Poppins character and undermines the soul of the movie. And who or what is this magical character, Mary Poppins? I’ll get to that in a moment.

The creator of Mary Poppins, P. L. Travers, was not a Christian in a conventional sense, though she did believe in God. She once said that the Mary Poppins tales, which she conceived while recovering from a serious illness, were gifts from God, and she cited the words of C. S. Lewis: “There is only one Creator; we merely mix the ingredients He gives us.”

One of the strangest aspects of the Mary Poppins character is that she is unexplained. Neither the original books nor the two Disney films offer a word of explanation for her enchanting powers or her origin. So what kind of creature is Mary Poppins? Let’s see — she comes down out of the clouds, out of the Heavens, you might say, and she ministers to a family in need, and especially the children. She is totally selfless and giving, asking nothing for herself. She can be stern, and even cross, but she is always loving, wise, generous, patient, and knows exactly what to say in every situation.

So what is she? She’s an angel, of course. A guardian angel.

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P. L. Travers in 1924. Photo: Public Domain

I don’t know if Travers consciously thought of Mary as an angel. I’ve never read an interview in which she said so explicitly. But I think that, at the very least, Travers’ unconsciously invented a reimagined heavenly messenger who comes to the Banks children in their hour of need. Mary performs the functions that guardian angels perform.

Unfortunately, according to Mary Poppins Returns, she is an angel who sings risqué songs at the Royal Doulton Music Hall.

The song didn’t spoil the movie for me. I loved Mary Poppins Returns. Truly loved it. But unlike Walt Disney’s original Mary Poppins film and character, I can’t say that this new Mary Poppins is practically perfect in every way.

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Note: You may also enjoy my op-ed piece on Walt Disney’s impact on the American space program. You’ll find it at the FoxNews.com website: https://www.foxnews.com/opinion/walt-disney-deserves-credit-for-our-progress-on-the-moon-and-mars-not-just-mickey-mouse.

And don’t miss my interviews with Christian romance writer Robin Lee Hatcher (author of Who I Am With You and An Idaho Christmas: Past and Present), and Christian science fiction writer Kerry Nietz (author of Amish Vampires in Space and Fraught). Visit my website at Writing in Overdrive. See you there!
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Note: Battle Before Time, the first book in my newly revised and updated Timebenders series for young readers, has just been released in paperback. Click this link to learn more.

And if you’d like to learn more about how to write faster, more freely, and more brilliantly than you ever thought possible, read my book Writing In Overdrive, available in paperback and ebook editions at Amazon.com. —J.D.

 

Jim Denney also blogs at Writing in Overdrive and Walt’s Disneyland

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2 Responses to Who is Mary Poppins? And Why is She Singing That Song?

  1. Judy says:

    I find it fascinating how Christians, including myself, are willing to compromise so easily by saying, “I loved it except for….” Somehow our exception excuse us from looking truth directly in the face. Children are not allowed to be children nor do we protect them or our own sensibilities anymore. With children being taught sex education earlier and earlier and sexual content slipped into their entertainment, they are no longer allowed to remain innocent. Then we complain about how sexualized they are, after we opened the door and escorted them through. I appreciate the review and the warning. I know me; what has been seen cannot be unseen. I don’t need to add one more thing I wish I could forget. I think it’s time I clear out some books and movies from my home library. I needed this because it’s something I’ve been pondering for a while. Thank you for the answer to my prayer over what to do.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Judy. Everything you said, all true. The sad thing for me about Mary Poppins Returns is that it’s a beautiful, shiny, polished apple . . . with a worm in it. Sure, I can eat around the worm, but the worm spoils the whole idea of the apple. It was so unnecessary. The original film was so pure and innocent. But the creators of the new film must be convinced that it’s impossible to sell purity and innocence anymore. And perhaps the creators are completely incapable of grasping the notion of purity and innocence. Our culture has sunk that low.
      This reminds me that I should mention that Mary Poppins Returns is more intense than the original film. There’s a combined animated-live action scene involving a kidnapping and a scary chase that might be too intense for young children.
      Thanks again for your thoughts, Judy — especially these wise words: “I don’t need to add one more thing I wish I could forget.” Well said! —J.D.

      Liked by 1 person

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