Mary Poppins is one of my wife’s favorite childhood movies. I first saw it in college and, being a parent, have seen it many times since then. Now when I walk through Times Square I see it is playing at the New Amsterdam Theater, and if I time it right I can hear bits of the musical on my way to the Port Authority after work. As is normal in the universe according to Disney, nothing is really ever seriously wrong in the London of 1910. Troublesome children are doing nothing more than chasing a kite and attempting to connect with an emotionally distant father. Even when he loses his job, Banks merely suffers an inverted umbrella and a punched hat. Joblessness lasts for only a day. Everybody sings. When we watched the movie again recently I considered how such an escape is healthy for those of us accustomed to a somewhat harsher adult existence. Joblessness is often long-term and desperation reeks as we find ourselves distanced from that which defines our existence.
Mary Poppins represents a divine figure in the Disney universe. She comes down from the heavens during a troubled period of history, judiciously utilizes a bit of magic, and heals the broken-hearted. When things go bad, Mary Poppins is there to make them right again, even on her day off. She shows the cold-hearted world of business that there is a better way. Who would you rather be—George Banks or the Bird Lady? Who is happier?
“All around the cathedral, the saints and apostles,” saintly Mary sings, “look down as she sells her wares. And although you can’t see it, you know they are smiling each time someone shows that he cares.” Where are the saints and apostles of Wall Street? Instead the optimistic view of humanity plays itself out on Broadway where the intensity of humankind spans from homeless beggar to movie star. Fantasy is underrated. Our minds have evolved the capacity to allow us to escape the realities of suffering, disappointment, and angst. When a week of trouble and turmoil has held us in its grip, we may still escape to the magical kingdom of our choice to find bread and circuses. Mary Poppins does not condemn the greed of Mr. Dawes and the rich die laughing. It is difficult not to like Mary Poppins, the angelic symbol of care that doesn’t disrupt the system. And Disney will see no end to its place among the wealthiest families on earth. It is a small world, after all.