Why Mary Poppins Left


Over the weekend I sat on the couch with Rose (age 7) and Calvin (age 4), watching them watch Mary Poppins for the first time. They knew the songs, of course, from “Dad’s computer” and sang along loudly with Mary and Burt.

But Mary Poppins is set in 1910 in imperial England. How does one explain (in the course of fast-moving scenes and continual puzzled why’s… from Rose), Mrs. Banks women’s rights sash across her bosom and her glee in leaving the children in the care of a nanny in order to “cast off the shackles of yesterday.”

Then there’s the issue of the cadre of uniformed servants in the household. What are they doing, and why is there so much glass in that house? And why was Mr. Banks was so “grumpy” all the time. What’s a chimney sweep? Why don’t we have a fireplace?

Calvin doesn’t like loud noises that he can’t control. Why is that guy always setting off the booming cannon? (Why, indeed?) Because he’s a little bit crazy.

Why did the man at the bank take Michael’s money? Why did the dad lose his job? (Try explaining a run-on-a-bank to a four-year-old. Try explaining the banking system to begin with—why it’s a good idea to put your money in the bank, and what compound interest is.) Why was the dad laughing after he lost his job? What’s funny about the joke about the man with one leg named Smith?

And after all was said and done, why did Mary Poppins leave Jane and Michael Banks?

“She said she was going to stay until the wind changes,” Rose declares with a bit of a pout.

“What do you think that means?” I ask.

The movie is over. (We’d watched the first half of the movie at night, and the second half on Sunday morning.) It’s time to put on shoes and walk the dog. The kids whizz their scooters while the dog and I tug-of-war over our pace. He does his business dutifully. Then right before we cross the last street back to the house, Rose calls out to me.

“I got it! When the dad lost his job, he got happy again. Mary Poppins meant that she’d stay until things got better. So that’s why she left.”

Mr. Banks did get his job back, you may recall, after he’d learned to enjoy children, wife, imagination, jokes, and song.

Perhaps there’s a message for our economy in there somewhere, you think?

Categories : Books & Movies

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