At South Pointe Casino, their theatre has been putting on a “Classic Series” recently, showing films that haven’t graced the big screen in a number of years. While I’ve been able to see Ben Hur, Singin’ in the Rain, and Chinatown, my most recent venture was to see that of Mary Poppins. (All of which were complete with film grain, glorious film grain!)
As a kid, I didn’t much care for the MP. I watched it because it was allowed—and/or on—and had an animated sequence. But I never really enjoyed the endless songs or all of those “real” people—regardless of their fan-fucking-tastical nature. My viewings over the years have been sparse, and the last time I saw it, I remember that my biggest revelation was noticing that Uncle Albert (the nutbar giggling on the ceiling of his house) is also the voice of the Mad Hatter in Disney’s animated version of Alice in Wonderland. Outside of that connection, my response hadn’t changed: too much singing, not enough animation, and that “Step in Time” song/dance goes on for far, far too long.
And really, who didn’t watch this film as a child and get creeped out by Dick Van Dyke’s portrayal of Mr. Dawes Senior? The look in his eye before he snatches the tuppence from Michael… Some mighty fine acting on his part, as it freaked me out as a child and was still more than a little unsettling as an adult. Sadly though, this always seems like such a focal point of the film, his monstrousness—followed in turn by his laughing himself to death. I don’t know how many quips and comments I’ve heard about this over the years, the Scrooge-like transformation that is more than a little ridiculous.
However, my recent viewing flipped my proverbial shit, as it became an entirely new film to my “adult” eyes.
While rewatching the thing, I questioned who actually owned the film. And like The Dark Knight, where the film isn’t the titular character’s—it’s totally Harvey’s—Mary Poppins isn’t about Mary or Bert or even the two, doe-eyed kids. It’s Mr. Bank’s film. Period. He’s the one who changes. He’s the one who grows. And in the end, he’s the only one who “learns” anything. (Yes, the children see their father in a new light, but they never hated him or had much of a problem with him to begin with—even though they had every right.) It’s all about George and the inversion of his world, from being one of order, where he’s entirely in control, to one where he’s stripped of his title and stature, and has little to no say over what’s happening in his life and household.
Especially for the time of the film’s release, where the American Dream was kickin’ down noggin-doors and blasting through the American collective consciousness—talk about the thematic opposite. Yes, having a successful family was an important ideal of the time—and still supposedly is—but it hinged on the husband’s success, what he provided and the status he achieved in life. Ultimately though, it’s this exact ideal and ladder-climbing pursuit that George must give up in order to find happiness.
(This is taken further when Mr. Banks breaks the fourth wall of film and stares down the audience—twice, no less—as Bert dispenses his two cents about life, Mary Poppins, and what it means to be happy.)
In the end, George’s exclamation of “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” is the equivalent of a “Fuck You” to Mr. Dawes Senior, his current lifestyle, and—in essence—the American Dream. He doesn’t care about his social status or amassing a Scrooge McDuck cache of cash, as long as he has joy in his life, joy brought about by his wife and children.
And, yes, I’ll admit that he doesn’t have to worry for long. It all ends on a happy note—as Disney films do, regardless of how the source material concludes. But that doesn’t decrease the importance of George’s choice. After his dark and solitary walk to the bank, he doesn’t know that it will all work out. Rather than become a distraught and bitter man, he finally realizes that he’s been broken all along, and it’s only letting go of his self expectations, his class, and his life that fixes him.
I guess this is why the film has its “Classic” status, as any story that grows and changes as you do has to amount to something worthwhile…