The Mary Poppins Controversy

I heard the swirling controversy before I ever made it to see Saving Mr. Banks. Purists bemoaned the glorified version of Walt Disney himself and the tears of joy that P. L. Travers weeps as she watches the premier of the Mary Poppins movie based on her book. They correctly point out that he did not originally invite her to the premier. She was badgering Disney to take out the animated penguins even at that late point and was not happy with his treatment of her books. Her tears were not for joy!

Some of those who had read and loved her books sympathized with her stance. The Mary Poppins of the books was no “spoonful of sugar” kind of nanny. On the other hand, another critic pointed out that she had no aversion to taking the money that came from the production.

I had failed to read the books as I grew up even though I wore the “bookworm” title proudly. I’m guessing they were missing in the limited supply on our bookmobile, sparse collection in our small rural schools, and even more limited collection – if there was one at all – in the rural churches I attended.

I had enjoyed the free-wheeling Mary Poppins and her friend Burt in the Disney movie with my children. The lighthearted music had its place in my home and my classroom. I found nothing better to cure the wiggles in kindergarteners than moving to the music of “Step in Time” – great fun for the teacher as well as the students!

Before I saw the movie, I found a copy of Mary Poppins to read. She was quite different from the Julie Andrews version though she did come in on the wind with her parrot head umbrella.

Off I went with a friend to see Saving Mr. Banks. It may be just my perception, but it seemed the screenwriters modeled P. L. Travers after her own version of Mary Poppins. I left the movie with more questions than answers about how much of it to believe. I’ve enjoyed pursuing the trail to find which parts were true.

The hullabaloo could lead to the question of who comes out on top? I would say we do. The original Mary Poppins books are very fine tales. The Mary Poppins movie is delightful. Although I haven’t seen it, I’ve heard that the play that follows the book more closely is quite good. Saving Mr. Banks is good enough that my friend who went with me was seeing it for the second time. So just enjoy all four versions, the discussion of the controversy, and some really fascination research if you look into the life of the author herself.

I thought you might also enjoy the picture, borrowed with permission from a mutual friend’s Facebook page, of my good friend Ellen Ruffin in her role as the first Mary Poppins at Disneyworld. She liked the books and both movies as well. I think she should know.