Mary Pop­pins but not as you re­mem­ber her ...

Mary Pop­pins is mak­ing a screen come­back, but the se­quel may be less sweet, writes Char­lotte Run­cie

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents -

The live-ac­tion 1964 Dis­ney film Mary Pop­pins had its fair share of strange and mar­vel­lous go­ings-on as part of the plot. Chil­dren jumped through chalk draw­ings into other uni­verses and peo­ple laughed un­til they lev­i­tated. It was even a world where the stiff up­per lip of an English fa­ther could be melted by a kite-fly­ing ex­cur­sion.

But even more weird and won­der­ful events hap­pen in the orig­i­nal se­ries of fan­tas­ti­cal and hugely imag­i­na­tive Mary Pop­pins books, writ­ten by PL Travers. Some things were toned down for the screen: Mary Pop­pins her­self, for in­stance, was a kin­der char­ac­ter than in the books.

More than 50 years since the first Dis­ney film, there is now a se­quel in the works star­ring Emily Blunt. Although it’s likely to be an­other story filled with magic, mu­sic and fun, re­ports sug­gest it will be ex­panded well be­yond the books.

The se­quel is said to be set 20 years af­ter the pre­vi­ous movie, with Jane and Michael grown up. The adult Jane and Michael Banks, along with Michael’s three chil­dren, suf­fer a tragedy in the fam­ily and need Mary Pop­pins to re­turn to bring them joy, a plot line not found in the books.

Lin-Manuel Mi­randa, the creator and star of the hit Broad­way mu­si­cal Hamil­ton, is play­ing the role of Jack, ap­par­ently based on sev­eral sup­port­ing char­ac­ters in the books and sim­i­lar to the role made fa­mous in the orig­i­nal film by Dick Van Dyke as Bert. It re­mains to be seen how many of the stranger episodes from the nov­els make it to the screen se­quel.

But what­ever Dis­ney de­cides, there’s po­ten­tial for a great Mary Pop­pins hor­ror fan­tasy movie to be made for grown-ups, with plenty of bizarre — and some­times ter­ri­fy­ing — source ma­te­rial in the books. Here are eight el­e­ments that stand out as par­tic­u­larly hard to adapt:

1. A WORLD TOUR OF RACIST STEREO­TYPES: Prob­a­bly the most in­fa­mous chap­ter of the orig­i­nal book has Mary Pop­pins tak­ing the chil­dren in her care around the world, in­tro­duc­ing them to a dif­fer­ent racially stereo­typed char­ac­ter in each lo­ca­tion. Maybe it was the sort of thing that passed with­out com­ment when Travers was writ­ing in the 1930s, but as time went by this par­tic­u­lar episode caused in­creas­ing con­ster­na­tion among Pop­pins fans. Travers even­tu­ally went back and edited it in 1981, chang­ing the char­ac­ters to an­i­mals.

2. CHILD AB­DUC­TION: In a ter­ri­fy­ing se­quence in the se­cond book, young Jane Banks gets kid­napped by a spooky grand­fa­ther of two old­fash­ioned boys who live in­side a cracked china bowl and who want to keep her trapped in­side the bowl for­ever. Mary Pop­pins res­cues her, and turns it into a les­son about how you shouldn’t think too much.

3. A CIRCUS IN SPACE: In Mary Pop­pins Comes Back, Jane and Michael visit a circus in the night sky, where the con­stel­la­tions are the circus acts and a dragon made out of stars begs them for a cur­rant bun. But the circus is over­seen by a malev­o­lent all-pow­er­ful sun, whom all the other stars wor­ship, and who cracks a whip to ex­press dis­plea­sure at their per­for­mances. The dragon and a clown flee the scene, weep­ing. The sun dances with Mary Pop­pins and they share a mo­ment of un­re­solved ro­man­tic ten­sion.

4. MARY POP­PINS FLIES OFF INTO THE ETHER ON A POS­SESSED MERRY-GO-ROUND: Not con­tent with her usual method of trans­port — a fly­ing um­brella — at one point in the books, Mary Pop­pins sud­denly deserts her young charges in the park by hop­ping aboard a carousel, which promptly be­gins spin­ning faster and faster, the mu­sic louder and louder, un­til it takes off and bears Mary away and into the sky. An en­chanted carousel did make it into the orig­i­nal film, but not in this con­text — and Dis­ney chose to omit Jane and Michael’s dev­as­tated re­ac­tions to their beloved nanny blast­ing off into space and leav­ing them alone.

5. ALIEN CATS: In Mary Pop­pins in the Park, a visit is paid to a planet filled with of­fi­cious, rid­dling alien cats. The alien cats keep an army of slave chil­dren, and Michael Banks is be­trothed to marry a fe­line princess be­fore a group of fu­ri­ous cats at­tempt to smother him with their bod­ies.

6. A HERBAL EN­CY­CLO­PE­DIA: Mary Pop­pins in Cherry Tree Lane is a story that uses var­i­ous botan­i­cal herbs through­out, and in­cludes an en­cy­clo­pe­dia of their uses and Latin names. Which is interesting in it­self but may not trans­late well to the big screen.

7. THE CRACK: At New Year, things get philo­soph­i­cal, as a crack forms be­tween the old year and the new: “In­side the Crack all things are at one. The eter­nal op­po­sites meet and kiss. The wolf and the lamb lie down to­gether, the dove and the ser­pent share one nest. The stars bend down and touch the earth and the young and old for­give each other,” Sleep­ing Beauty says by way of ex­pla­na­tion.

8. FISH THAT CATCH HU­MANS: Jane and Michael fall through a conch shell into an un­der­sea king­dom filled with talk­ing fish in Mary Pop­pins Opens the Door. Ev­ery­thing starts off in­no­cently enough, and they get in­vited to a fishy gar­den party. But the first sign that all is not well comes with the strict en­force­ment of a “no whales” door pol­icy. Soon it tran­spires that the fish them­selves en­joy a bit of fish­ing — and they like to catch hu­mans, lur­ing them with bait of straw­berry tarts and keep­ing them trapped un­der­wa­ter. The fish en­joy watch­ing them wrig­gle.

Julie Andrews as Mary Pop­pins in the 1964 Dis­ney orig­i­nal

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