Mary Poppins is turning 50.
Let’s pause here to honor what is surely one of the best children’s movies ever made, musical or otherwise. (Heck, one of the best movies, period.) Let’s pause, too, to reminisce about Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious and Chim chim cher-ee and I Love to Laugh and Step in Time.
Feel better? I sure do. The movie’s catchy tunes are now stuck in the download queue of my mind, playing over and over in an endless loop. And that’s not a bad thing. Not by a long shot.
Technically, the Disney movie’s anniversary isn’t until next year. In August, to be precise. But the great marketing machine that is The Mouse and our national tendency to gorge on nostalgia in uncertain times has led the company to move up the iconic film’s birthday by a few months.
This week, Disney released Mary Poppins in high definition to coincide with the holiday shopping season and with another movie, Saving Mr. Banks, a Tom Hanks-Emma Thompson dramatization of Walt Disney’s tenacious pursuit of Poppins author P.L. Travers, who was famous for shunning Hollywood. The change in release date is a smart business ploy, to be sure, but it’s also fortuitous for the rest of us. As an adult I’ve come to realize that Mary Poppins carries a weight and a message that transcends the decades and, if we’re lucky, might even do us some good.
Seems to me that the movie, as well as its songs, has acquired more heft over time. Listen closely to the lyrics of such classics as Feed the Birds and A Man has Dreams and you’ll understand: Scan the scenes, especially those that include bankers and chimney sweeps, and discover parallels to the current wealth divide.
Come feed the little birds, show them you care
And you'll be glad if you do
Their young ones are hungry
Their nests are so bare
All it takes is tuppence from you
I was 7 when Mary Poppins debuted and, as sheltered and inexperienced as I was, I thought it was the cat’s meow. I believed beyond a reasonable doubt that all one had to do was jump into a chalk picture to be transported to a world of endless possibilities, a world where magic was as commonplace as homework and Saturday chores.
Even now, the quiet optimist in me refuses to let go of that belief, though life has betrayed that confidence in so many painful ways. That optimist still knows the value of a good belly laugh and the soaring wonder of flying a kite on a blustery day. She understands that Stay Awake is the perfect lullaby, a blend of gentle coaxing and reverse psychology, a parental tool that has proven effective again and again. To this day, she also believes that a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down. And if not sugar, dark chocolate certainly does.
Mary Poppins, in its special Blu-ray edition, will likely find a new audience among the youngest of our young, and for that I am glad. That means another generation trying to zip up a bannister, another generation hoping for a tea party on the ceiling, another generation soothed by the unwavering Poppins equanimity. Because in the end, when the dancing is done and the music has quieted, the genius of this movie remains its clear-eyed, no-nonsense sanguinity, a valuable quality for the ages.