Words: Andrea Zanin
Illustration: Fleur Beech

Purveyor of the extraordinary, deliverer of medicines and sugar (in small doses – don’t panic), sustainer of sense, flier of kites, friend of penguins and owner of the coolest bag ever imagined… Mary Poppins has once again captured the public imagination, 50 years after Julie Andrews immortalised P.L Travers’ fictional character in the 1964 film adaptation titled after its lead. (I mean, as if she ever left?)

Featuring Cate Blanchett as Time’s favourite nanny and Sam Riley as chimney sweep Bert (originally played by Dick Van Dyke), word of a film at the hands of Movieland’s controversial gothic maestro Tim Burton has since been exposed as a nothing more than a terrific prank. Alas, not even the YouTube teaser, which sucker-punched more than 100,000 viewers, was an iota of real. Assuredly, loads of fans are (misguidedly) thanking mighty Zeus for striking a lightning bolt into the heart of the faux Burton remake but this is beside the point; someone went to a great amount of effort to rehash the Poppins vibe with some pretty bang-on PR, and the world bought it. Social media and even reputable news sources were abuzz with a nostalgic euphoria induced by a desire to believe; that Mary Poppins could and would reappear on the back of the East wind, umbrella in hand, smile in tow.

Her sense of decency makes a difference. She mends behaviour and adjusts perspective – both children’s and adults’

 

Just to be clear, we’re talking ‘Movie Mary’; our love of whom undoubtedly has a great deal to do with Julie Andrews’ fabulous face. ‘Book Mary’ is a whole other story; in Travers’ eight-novel series, Poppins is described as “not much to look at”, with squinty eyes and big feet – not quite as enticing Disney’s imagining. By and large, we’re superficial people; beauty goes a long way to securing the admiration and confidence of the masses. And if great hair and a killer face are matched with the ability to belt out a Disney tune… But let’s for a moment forget society’s petty penchant for pretty people; Mary Poppins is relevant, decades later. Fact. Last year’s historical drama biopic Saving Mr. Banks (a movie about the making of Mary Poppins – apparently Travers wasn’t a fan of the creative liberties Disney took with her original, rather stoic, character) further attests to the point. But why?  Why many, many years later is “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” still something we pride ourselves on being able to enunciate, and why can’t we fly kites without sending them souring up to the highest heights on the (so-called) tune of a very mediocre rendition?

Here’s a theory: the more heinous society becomes, the more it looks to counterbalance the bad with good. It’s the natural way. Some people turn to religion. And then there’s Mary Poppins; her sense of responsibility, her spirit of community, her luminescent goodness are all deeply alluring. Her self-stated, iconic perfection is other-worldly, alien, and therein resonates the appeal. Mary Poppins represents something we aspire to but can’t quite grasp. She permeates a kind of love that is fast becoming old-fashioned in a modern society that lauds the doctrine of relativity and cringes at the mere mention of accountability.

We’re talking ‘Movie Mary’, our love of whom has a great deal to do with Julie Andrews’ face. ‘Book Mary’ is a whole other story

Yes, Mary Poppins tells Michael to close his mouth because “we’re not codfish” and authoritatively reminds him not to slouch; she intends not to “make a spectacle” of herself and wonders why Bert complicates “things that are really quite simple” but even if we don’t like to admit it, the world needs rules (in the name of order, sanity and all round pleasantness). And Mary Poppins, unapologetic in her prudishness, gives us some. And we like it. We cling to the boundary-driven love that enveloped the residents of number 17 Cherry Tree Lane, way back in 1910. Her sense of decency makes a difference. She mends behaviour and adjusts perspective – both children’s and adults’. Mary Poppins is not only a symbol of goodness and family values but of hope, too. Through the aptitude and insight that has become synonymous with Mary Poppins, George Banks – workaholic and AWOL father – is redeemed; he learns what is most important in life (family) and undergoes a drastic character change, a revival of spirit. And, honestly, who couldn’t use a little redemption, a little revival, in this life? Poppins makes it happen.

The thing is; when something (anything) is a little too perfect the devil on our shoulder whispers rebellion into our consciousness. Enter Tim Burton and his elusive Poppins pioneering sidekick-with-a-vision. There’s no denying that twisting Mary Poppins’ paradigmatic wholesomeness into something glorious and gloomy is an idea so fabulous that the mind boggles with anticipation. The adaptation could’ve, would’ve, been awesome; the ultimate irony – prissy Poppins burlesqued-up the Burton way. A touch of the macabre. The travesty is just too delectable, even if only in theory. And yet even when a boundary is tested, manoeuvred out of place to see what will happen, it merely reinforces the value of the tried boundary in the first place. If the ethic and essence of Miss Mary Poppins arouses a mutiny, the fact remains; the world needs as much goodness as it can get.

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