Lee has a bachelor's in English Lit. She loves analyzing fiction and obsessing over books, film, and television.
What kid didn't love Disney's adaptation of Mary Poppins by P. L. Travers? The classic film was whimsical, fun, had great songs, and the two starring children, Jane and Micheal, were totally relatable. I mean, who has never lost a kite?
As a kid who was very into dragons and magic and elves, it always seemed pretty obvious to me that Mary Poppins was some kind of witch. And yet, not one seemed to notice or care. People just kind of went along with it, and I think that was a part of her charm.
And I mean literal charm. As in, Mary Poppins (Julie Andrews) used her power to manipulate people. Those instances where she skillfully lawyer-logiced a bumbling Mr. Banks into changing his mind about firing her were more than mere mind tricks. She used magic.
This isn't to suggest that Mary Poppins was evil.
Oh, no. Quite the contrary.
If anything, Mary Poppins was a sympathetic figure. She was a powerful woman living in a world where women were powerless, as is evidenced by Mrs. Banks in the opening of the film.("Well done! Sister Suffragist!")
Not long ago, women who possessed magic were being burned at the stake! And because of that, it wasn't likely you'd walk into a coffee shop and see a sorceress just hanging out. So why wouldn't Mary Poppins hide her true nature with mind manipulating spells that ultimately did no harm to anyone and at the same time preserved her very beautiful neck?
So, in case you need further evidence, let's examine all the times Mary Poppins demonstrated her power.
She Controls the Weather
After magically receiving Jane and Micheal's letter like some kind of Santa Claus, Mary Poppins secures her new position as nanny by conjuring a storm that blows the other nannies away.
She Can Fly
That umbrella might as well be a broom.
She Probably Doesn't Really Look Like That
When Mary Poppins is interviewed by Mr. Banks, he is shocked that she has somehow gotten a hold of the letter that he specifically tore up and burned in the fireplace like a real jerk.
Mary points out that she has everything Jane and Micheal listed, so there must be no mistake. She has rosy cheeks, no worts. She plays games, all sorts.
This always left me with the assumption that Mary Poppins changed her appearance to fit what Jane and Micheal desired in a caretaker. Had they asked for an older more grandmotherly woman, she might have complied.
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Of course, there's Bert (played by Dick van Dyke), who seems to know her. But we could possibly argue that he only knows Mary from that one form she takes. For all he knows, he could've bumped into her while she was parading around as an old woman and never would have recognized her!
Mary Poppins could easily be a purple potato. How would we know?
Her Bag is a Bottomless Pit
While unpacking, Mary Poppins casually proceeds to pull a lamp, a coat hanger, and a mirror out of her carpetbag. We watch as a baffled Micheal crawls under the table and tries to figure out the parlor trick. But it's not a trick. It's pure magic.
That Time She Made the Furniture Move
When Mary Poppins first arrives, she slides up the stairway banister like it's her personal elevator, calls Micheal a codfish, and then proceeds to teach the children magic by having them clean up the nursery with little more than snapping.
The children are then able to make their toys dance and their beds make themselves.
(You'll notice that Micheal, the boy, is rather bad at it, but Jane takes to it naturally. Maybe Jane is a sorceress in the making!)
She Can Enter Paintings
Bert begs Mary to take him and the children inside one of his chalk paintings.
Mary pretends she doesn't want to do it. On the surface, one might assume she is uptight. The reality is, Mary Poppins is terrified of getting caught.
Imagine if something went wrong and they became stuck in the painting for days? She could be accused of having kidnapped the children. And what if her magic was finally unveiled? She could be killed. Or she could be forced to kill and flee!
It's a grim theory, but it makes sense to me: why would a secret witch want to be caught?
And of course, everyone in the painting is in love with Mary. Pretty sure she had nothing to do with that.
The magical journey only ends when it starts to rain and Bert's paintings become smudged. This is rather convenient, as Bert was fresh with Mary and flirting an awful lot. I believe Mary -- someone who can control the weather -- caused the rain to 1) avoid getting caught and 2) avoid Bert.
Mary Poppins is a sorceress, after all, and can't allow herself to form sentimental attachments to short-lived mortal men.
And tea parties on the ceiling, because that's totally normal.
Uncle Albert is probably Mary's ancient wizard uncle, who she keeps coming back to London to care for, and thus, keeps running into Bert.
She Can Walk on Smoke
During the rooftop dance sequence, Mary Poppins manipulates smoke so that she and the children can walk on it when crossing the rooftops.
She then seems to cast a spell on the chimney sweeps, making them gush over her as they dance with her.
This is further evidence that she is not uptight but is rather just afraid of being exposed. In this sequence, she appears to stop caring for a bit, knowing that no one has witnessed her power on the rooftop outside of people no one would believe anyway: namely poor chimney sweeps and two children.
Later, when the chimney sweeps are all marching through the house to the sputtering of a furious Mr. Banks, Mary Poppins appears completely innocent in the chaos, as if she had gotten swept up in it rather than causing it.
When Mr. Banks still tries to fire her, she applies her magic again, manipulating him into taking the children on an outing instead -- and putting her on paid vacation!
She is Probably Immortal
And, oh yeah: Mary's not-broom talks and is alive.
At the end of the film, the umbrella demonstrates a lack of understanding for Mary Poppins and the work she does.
Mary Poppins has dedicated her life to making children happy and healing the wounds between them and their parents. Once she does her job, she has to leave, as it wouldn't be right to allow the children to become more attached to her than to their own family.
Ostracized by society due to her power, Mary is doomed to wander the world in various guises, living vicariously through the families she helps. At the end of the film, she is not merely weeping because she will miss Jane and Micheal -- although this is partially the case.
Mary is weeping because she will never know a normal life like Mrs. Banks. Mrs. Banks gets to have a home and a family who loves her, but the price is that she is powerless. Meanwhile, Mary Poppins must wander alone because of her power.
Knowing that Mary is probably also an ageless immortal being who hails from the time before Christ, it makes her isolation that much more poignant. But we can take comfort in the thought that she actually enjoys her work and will know happiness with many, many children for ages to come.
© 2018 Lee