When Disney set about the make a "true-life adventure" film about the making of their classic musical Mary Poppins, they received criticism from certain quarters for that film's propaganda-like qualities. Margaret Lyons of Vulture takes up the cross for artistes wanting to uphold their creative vision: "...what was presented as a joyless, loveless pedant finally giving herself over to the delight and imagination of the Wonderful World of Disney could just as easily been presented as a creative, passionate person, with dignity and real emotions, getting steamrolled by one of the most powerful companies in the world." But that is unfair to Saving Mr. Banks, which had the herculean task of making P.L. Travers out to be merely a "joyless, loveless pedant" and not the disgusting, horrible human being she actually was. Disney softened her considerably, actually succeeding in making her somewhat sympathetic and therein being the ones to invite a more sympathetic view of her being steamrolled by Walt into turning her British children's book into an American family musical. An acquaintance with the historical P.L. Travers is enough to allow one exception in the rule of artistic integrity, making a person a little glad that her own creation was wrested from her as a kind of karmic retribution.
Born in Australia and suffering the loss of her father at a young age, Helen Lyndon Goff moved to England on the bankroll of her wealthy aunts, took up the stage name Pamela Lyndon Travers, and insinuated herself into the salons and bedrooms of the artistic set. Entranced with the Irish culture that her father claimed to share, she particularly fixated on becoming acquaintances with, and often mistress of, various Irish authors, editors, and publishers. Unfortunately for her, she never could hold down a stable relationship, even a ten-year long cohabitation with friend (and likely more) Madge Burnand, daughter of playwright and Punch editor Sir Francis Burnand. At first she sought relief in various and sundry mystical diversions, including sojourns with the Navajo and Hopi in America as well as a trip to Japan to study Zen Buddhism. None of these seemed to have produced the most necessary spiritual effect, which is to help make you a better, kinder, and more loving human being. Some people turn to spirituality to feel better, some turn to spirituality to become better. Travers was the former.
To fill the gaping cavity where her heart should be, Travers arranged to adopt a pair of twins, grandchildren of the beleaguered Joseph Hone. Biographer of W.B. Yeats, Hone found himself and his wife having to raise their son's six children. Looking to lighten their load, they were keen to adopt off the two youngest at six months. However, after consultation with her astrologer, Travers reneged on her agreement and only took the one. This, whom she named Camillus, she raised as her own with no knowledge of his ancestry or twin brother. At the age of 17, his brother Anthony came looking for him. The revelation created a lasting rift between Camillus and Travers, the emotional damage driving Camillus to drink. It was at this point in her life that Walt Disney came a-calling, offering the money required for her to maintain the lavish lifestyle to which she had become accustomed. Camillus went to his grave some 50 years later, claiming that Travers had robbed him of his family. His children went on to say that when their adopted grandmother P.L. Travers died, she died unloved and loving no one.
Sometimes it's better to know nothing of the author of a beloved story. In the case of Mary Poppins, Disney becomes the spoonful of sugar to ease the bitterness of a creator who can be interpreted as lost and tragic or mean and selfish, but either way a generally awful person. What is most astonishing, when taking all of this into consideration, is how someone like P.L. Travers could have written a book so charming and whimsical as Mary Poppins.
The extent to which Disney's film departs from the original novel and its sequel is negotiable. Contrary to how Saving Mr. Banks presented it, Mary Poppins (the book) has no subtext of "saving Mr. Banks" whatsoever. Published in 1934, the story begins with Mary Poppins simply blowing inelegantly in on the East Wind ("Then the shape, tossed and bent under the wind, lifted the latch of the gate, and they could see that it belonged to a woman, who was holding her hat on with one hand and carrying a bag in the other. As they watched, Jane and Michael saw a curious thing happen. As soon as the shape was inside the gate the wind seemed to catch her up into the air and fling her at the house. It was as though it had flung her first at the gate, waited for her to open it, and then lifted and thrown her, bag and all, at the front door. The watching children heard a terrific bang, and as she landed the whole house shook."), then taking the children on a series adventures, and simply blowing out again on the West Wind. An actual plotline was introduced by Disney, presumably as an emotional hook in what would otherwise be a series of disjointed vignettes.
Of those vignettes, the differences between them and the film version is negligible. Mary Poppins does meet up with the Match-Man named Bert and goes for a date with him in a chalk painting, though it is without the children in tow. For the most part the children are the lens through which we see Mary Poppins, but not always. Disney hews closer to that use for them.
"Mary," he said, "I got an idea! A real idea. Why don't we go there — right now — this very day? Both together, into the picture. Eh, Mary?" And still holding her hands he drew her right out of the street, away from the iron railings and the lamp-posts, into the very middle of the picture. Pff! There they were, right inside it!
How green it was there and how quiet, and what soft crisp grass under their feet! They could hardly believe it was true, and yet here were green branches huskily rattling on their hats as they bent beneath them, and little coloured flowers curling round their shoes.
They stared at each other, and each noticed that the other had changed. To Mary Poppins, the Match Man seemed to have bought himself an entirely new suit of clothes, for he was now wearing a bright green-and-red striped coat and white flannel trousers and, best of all, a new straw hat. He looked unusually clean, as though he had been polished.
"Why, Bert, you look fine!" she cried in an admiring voice.
Bert could not say anything for a moment, for his mouth had fallen open and he was staring at her with round eyes.
Then he gulped and said: "Golly!"
That was all.
But he said it in such a way and stared so steadily and so delightedly at her that she took a little mirror out of her bag and looked at herself in it.
She, too, she discovered, had changed. Round her shoulders hung a cloak of lovely artificial silk with watery patterns all over it, and the tickling feeling at the back of her neck came, the mirror told her, from a long curly feather that swept down from the brim of her hat. Her best shoes had disappeared, and in their place were others much finer and with large diamond buckles shining upon them. She was still wearing the white gloves and carrying the umbrella.
"My goodness," said Mary Poppins, "I am having a Day Out!"
So, still admiring themselves and each other, they moved on together through the little wood, till presently they came upon a little open space filled with sunlight. And there on a green table was Afternoon Tea!
A pile of raspberry-jam cakes as high as Mary Poppins' waist stood in the centre, and beside it tea was boiling in a big brass urn. Best of all, there were two plates of whelks and two pins to pick them out with.
"Strike me pink!" said Mary Poppins. That was what she always said when she was pleased.
"Golly!" said the Match Man. And that was his particular phrase.
"Won't you sit down, Moddom?" enquired a voice, and they turned to find a tall man in a black coat coming out of the wood with a table napkin over his arm.
Mary Poppins, thoroughly surprised, sat down with a plop upon one of the little green chairs that stood round the table.
The Match Man, staring, collapsed on to another.
"I'm the Waiter, you know!" explained the man in the black coat.
"Oh! But I didn't see you in the picture," said Mary Poppins.
"Ah, I was behind the tree," explained the Waiter.
"Won't you sit down?" said Mary Poppins, politely.
"Waiters never sit down, Moddom," said the man but he seemed pleased at being asked.
"Your whelks, Mister!" he said, pushing a plate of them over to the Match Man. "And your Pin!" He dusted the pin on his napkin and handed it to the Match Man.
They began upon the afternoon tea, and the Waiter stood beside them to see they had everything they needed.
"We're having them after all," said Mary Poppins in a loud whisper, as she began on the heap of raspberry-jam cakes.
"Golly!" agreed the Match Man, helping himself to two of the largest.
"Tea?" said the Waiter, filling a large cup for each of them from the urn.
They drank it and had two cups more each, and then, for luck, they finished the pile of raspberry-jam cakes. After that they got up and brushed the crumbs off.
"There is Nothing to Pay," said the Waiter, before they had time to ask for the bill. "It is a Pleasure. You will find the Merry-go-Round just over there!" And he waved his hand to a little gap in the trees, where Mary Poppins and the Match Man could see several wooden horses whirling round on a stand. "That's funny," said she. "I don't remember seeing that in the picture, either."
"Ah," said the Match Man, who hadn’t remembered it himself, "it was in the Background, you see!"
The Merry-go-Round was just slowing down as they approached it. They leapt upon it, Mary Poppins on a black horse and the Match Man on a grey. And when the music started again and they began to move, they rode all the way to Yarmouth and back, because that was the place they both wanted most to see.
When they returned it was nearly dark and the Waiter was watching for them.
"I'm very sorry, Moddom and Mister," he said politely, "but we close at Seven. Rules, you know. May I show you the Way Out?"
They nodded as he flourished his table-napkin and walked on in front of them through the wood.
"It's a wonderful picture you've drawn this time, Bert," said Mary Poppins, putting her hand through the Match Man's arm and drawing her cloak about her.
"Well, I did my best, Mary," said the Match Man modestly. But you could see he was really very pleased with himself indeed.
Just then the Waiter stopped in front of them, beside a large white doorway that looked as though it were made of thick chalk lines.
"Here you are!" he said. "This is the Way Out."
"Goodbye and thank you," said Mary Poppins, shaking his hand.
"Moddom, goodbye!" said the Waiter, bowing so low that his head knocked against his knees.
He nodded to the Match Man, who cocked his head on one side and closed one eye at the Waiter, which was his way of bidding him farewell. Then Mary Poppins stepped through the white doorway and the Match Man followed her.
And as they went, the feather dropped from her hat and the silk cloak from her shoulders and the diamonds from her shoes. The bright clothes of the Match Man faded, and his straw hat turned into his old ragged cap again. Mary Poppins turned and looked at him, and she knew at once what had happened. Standing on the pavement she gazed at him for a long minute, and then her glance explored the wood behind him for the Waiter. But the Waiter was nowhere to be seen. There was nobody in the picture. Nothing moved there. Even the Merry-go-Round had disappeared. Only the still trees and the grass and the unmoving little patch of sea remained.
But Mary Poppins and the Match Man smiled at one another. They knew, you see, what lay behind the trees…
The carousel horses, included in this "Jolly Holiday" allude to Mary Poppins Comes Back, published in 1935. At the conclusion of that second volume, Mary Poppins departs from this world aboard a magical carousel. Likewise, the inspiration for kite-flying comes from the first chapter of Mary Poppins Comes Back, when she arrives by snagging onto the Bankses' kite string.
Mary and children also go to visit Uncle Albert, who always fills with Laughing Gas whenever his birthday falls on a Friday, but this time Bert isn't along.
Mary Poppins opened the door and pushed them in front of her. A large, cheerful room lay before them. At one end of it a fire was burning brightly and in the centre stood an enormous table laid for tea — four cups and saucers, piles of bread and butter, crumpets, coconut cakes and a large plum cake with pink icing.
"Well, this is indeed a Pleasure," a huge voice greeted them, and Jane and Michael looked round for its owner. He was nowhere to be seen. The room appeared to be quite empty.
Then they heard Mary Poppins saying crossly:
"Oh, Uncle Albert — not again? It's not your birthday, is it?"
And as she spoke she looked up at the ceiling. Jane and Michael looked up too and to their surprise saw a round, fat, bald man who was hanging in the air without holding on to anything. Indeed, he appeared to be sitting on the air, for his legs were crossed and he had just put down the newspaper which he had been reading when they came in.
"My dear," said Mr Wigg, smiling down at the children, and looking apologetically at Mary Poppins, "I'm very sorry, but I'm afraid it is my birthday."
"Tch, tch, tch!" said Mary Poppins.
"I only remembered last night and there was no time then to send you a postcard asking you to come another day. Very distressing, isn't it?" he said, looking down at Jane and Michael.
"I can see you're rather surprised," said Mr Wigg. And, indeed, their mouths were so wide open with astonishment that Mr Wigg, if he had been a little smaller, might almost have fallen into one of them.
"I'd better explain, I think," Mr Wigg went on calmly. "You see, it's this way. I'm a cheerful sort of man and very disposed to laughter. You wouldn't believe, either of you, the number of things that strike me as being funny. I can laugh at pretty nearly everything, I can."
And with that Mr Wigg began to bob up and down, shaking with laughter at the thought of his own cheerfulness.
"Uncle Albert!" said Mary Poppins, and Mr Wigg stopped laughing with a jerk.
"Oh, beg pardon, my dear. Where was I? Oh, yes. Well, the funny thing about me is — all right, Mary, I won't laugh if I can help it! — that whenever my birthday falls on a Friday, well, it's all up with me. Absolutely UP," said Mr Wigg.
"But why — ?" began Jane.
"But how — ?" began Michael.
"Well, you see, if I laugh on that particular day I become so filled with Laughing Gas that I simply can't keep on the ground. Even if I smile it happens. The first funny thought, and I'm up like a balloon. And until I can think of something serious I can't get down again." MrWigg began to chuckle at that, but he caught sight of Mary Poppins' face and stopped the chuckle, and continued:
"It's awkward, of course, but not unpleasant. Never happens to either of you, I suppose?"
Jane and Michael shook their heads.
"No, I thought not. It seems to be my own special habit. Once, after I'd been to the Circus the night before, I laughed so much that — would you believe it? — I was up here for a whole twelve hours, and couldn’t get down till the last stroke of midnight. Then, of course, I came down with a flop because it was Saturday and not my birthday any more. It’s rather odd, isn’t it? Not to say funny?
"And now here it is Friday again and my birthday, and you two and Mary P. to visit me. Oh, Lordy, Lordy, don't make me laugh, I beg of you — " But although Jane and Michael had done nothing very amusing, except to stare at him in astonishment, MrWigg began to laugh again loudly, and as he laughed he went bouncing and bobbing about in the air, with the newspaper rattling in his hand and his spectacles half on and half off his nose.
He looked so comic, floundering in the air like a great human bubble, clutching at the ceiling sometimes and sometimes at the gas-bracket as he passed it, that Jane and Michael, though they were trying hard to be polite, just couldn't help doing what they did. They laughed. And they laughed. They shut their mouths tight to prevent the laughter escaping, but that didn’t do any good. And presently they were rolling over and over on the floor, squealing and shrieking with laughter.
"Really!" said Mary Poppins. "Really, such behaviour!"
"I can't help it, I can't help it!" shrieked Michael, as he rolled into the fender. "It's so terribly funny. Oh, Jane, isn't it funny?"
Jane did not reply, for a curious thing was happening to her. As she laughed she felt herself growing lighter and lighter, just as though she were being pumped full of air. It was a curious and delicious feeling and it made her want to laugh all the more. And then suddenly, with a bouncing bounce, she felt herself jumping through the air. Michael, to his astonishment, saw her go soaring up through the room. With a little bump her head touched the ceiling and then she went bouncing along it till she reached Mr Wigg.
"Well!" said Mr Wigg, looking very surprised indeed. "Don't tell me it's your birthday, too?" Jane shook her head.
"It's not? Then this Laughing Gas must be catching! Hi — whoa there, look out for the mantelpiece!" This was to Michael, who had suddenly risen from the floor and was swooping through the air, roaring with laughter, and just grazing the china ornaments on the mantelpiece as he passed. He landed with a bounce right on Mr Wigg's knee.
"How do you do," said Mr Wigg, heartily shaking Michael by the hand. "I call this really friendly of you — bless my soul, I do! To come up to me since I couldn't come down to you — eh?" And then he and Michael looked at each other and flung back their heads and simply howled with laughter.
"I say," said Mr Wigg to Jane, as he wiped his eyes. "You'll be thinking I have the worst manners in the world. You're standing and you ought to be sitting — a nice young lady like you. I'm afraid I can't offer you a chair up here, but I think you'll find the air quite comfortable to sit on. I do."
Jane tried it and found she could sit down quite comfortably on the air. She took off her hat and laid it down beside her and it hung there in space without any support at all.
"That’s right," said Mr Wigg. Then he turned and looked down at Mary Poppins.
"Well, Mary, we're fixed. And now I can enquire about you, my dear. I must say, I am very glad to welcome you and my two young friends here today — why, Mary, you're frowning. I'm afraid you don’t approve of — er — all this."
He waved his hand at Jane and Michael, and said hurriedly:
"I apologize, Mary, my dear. But you know how it is with me. Still, I must say I never thought my two young friends here would catch it, really I didn't, Mary! I suppose I should have asked them for another day or tried to think of something sad or something — "
"Well, I must say," said Mary Poppins primly, "that I have never in my life seen such a sight. And at your age, Uncle — "
|When reading this section to your children (or wife,|
as the case may be), it is best to do a terrible Ed Wynn impression.
The book has more vignettes than what made it into film. For example, the little dog Andrew, briefly acknowledged by Dick Van Dyke, gets a whole chapter outlining his character, humiliating relationship with his owner Miss Lark, and his revolt. From chapter four, entitled "Miss Lark's Andrew":
Now, Andrew led such a luxurious life that you might have thought he was the Shah of Persia in disguise. He slept on a silk pillow in Miss Lark's room; he went by car to the Hairdresser's twice a week to be shampooed; he had cream for every meal and sometimes oysters, and he possessed four overcoats with checks and stripes in different colours. Andrew's ordinary days were filled with the kind of things most people have only on birthdays. And when Andrew himself had a birthday he had two candles on his cake for every year, instead of only one.
The effect of all this was to make Andrew very much disliked in the neighbourhood. People used to laugh heartily when they saw Andrew sitting up in the back seat of Miss Lark's car on the way to the Hairdresser's, with the fur rug over his knees and his best coat on. And on the day when Miss Lark bought him two pairs of small leather boots so that he could go out in the Park wet or fine, everybody in the Lane came down to their front gates to watch him go by and to smile secretly behind their hands.
You must not think he did not respect Miss Lark. He did. He was even fond of her in a mild sort of way. He couldn't help having a kindly feeling for somebody who had been so good to him ever since he was a puppy, even if she did kiss him rather too often. But there was no doubt about it that the life Andrew led bored him to distraction. He would have given half his fortune, if he had one, for a nice piece of raw, red meat, instead of the usual breast of chicken or scrambled eggs with asparagus.
For in his secret, innermost heart, Andrew longed to be a common dog. He never passed his pedigree (which hung on the wall in Miss Lark's drawing room) without a shudder of shame. And many a time he wished he'd never had a father, nor a grandfather, nor a great-grandfather, if Miss Lark was going to make such a fuss of it.
It was this desire of his to be a common dog that made Andrew choose common dogs for his friends. And whenever he got the chance, he would run down to the front gate and sit there watching for them, so that he could exchange a few common remarks. But Miss Lark, when she discovered him, would be sure to call out:
"Andrew, Andrew, come in, my darling! Come away from those dreadful street arabs!"
And of course Andrew would have to come in, or Miss Lark would shame him by coming out and bringing him in. And Andrew would blush and hurry up the steps so that his friends should not hear her calling him her Precious, her Joy, her Little Lump of Sugar.
Andrew's most special friend was more than common, he was a Byword. He was half an Airedale and half a Retriever and the worst half of both. Whenever there was a fight in the road he would be sure to be in the thick of it; he was always getting into trouble with the Postman or the Policeman, and there was nothing he loved better than sniffing about in drains or garbage tins. He was, in fact, the talk of the whole street, and more than one person had been heard to say thankfully that they were glad he was not their dog.
But Andrew loved him and was continually on the watch for him. Sometimes they had only time to exchange a sniff in the Park, but on luckier occasions — though these were very rare — they would have long talks at the gate. From his friend, Andrew heard all the town gossip, and you could see by the rude way in which the other dog laughed as he told it, that it wasn't very complimentary.
Then suddenly, Miss Lark's voice would be heard calling from a window, and the other dog would get up, loll out his tongue at Miss Lark, wink at Andrew and wander off, waving his hindquarters as he went just to show that he didn’t care.
Andrew, of course, was never allowed outside the gate unless he went with Miss Lark for a walk in the Park, or with one of the maids to have his toes manicured.
Imagine, then, the surprise of Jane and Michael when they saw Andrew, all alone, careering past them through the Park, with his ears back and his tail up as though he were on the track of a tiger.
Just as they were about to cross the road to their own house, they heard loud cries coming from Next Door, and there they saw a curious sight. Miss Lark's two maids were rushing wildly about the garden, looking under bushes and up into the trees as people do who have lost their most valuable possession. And there was Robertson Ay, from Number Seventeen, busily wasting his time by poking at the gravel on Miss Lark's path with a broom as though he expected to find the missing treasure under a pebble. Miss Lark herself was running about in her garden, waving her arms and calling: "Andrew, Andrew! Oh, he’s lost. My darling boy is lost! We must send for the Police. I must see the Prime Minister. Andrew is lost! Oh dear! Oh dear!"
"Oh, poor Miss Lark!" said Jane, hurrying across the road. She could not help feeling sorry because Miss Lark looked so upset.
But it was Michael who really comforted Miss Lark.
Just as he was going in at the gate of Number Seventeen, he looked down the Lane and there he saw —
"Why, there's Andrew, Miss Lark. See, down there — just turning Admiral Boom's corner!"
"Where, where? Show me!" said Miss Lark breathlessly, and she peered in the direction in which Michael was pointing.
And there, sure enough, was Andrew, walking as slowly and as casually as though nothing in the world was the matter; and beside him waltzed a huge dog that seemed to be half an Airedale and half a Retriever, and the worst half of both.
"Oh, what a relief!" said Miss Lark, sighing loudly. "What a load off my mind!"
Mary Poppins and the children waited in the Lane outside Miss Lark’s gate. Miss Lark herself and her two maids leant over the fence, Robertson Ay, resting from his labours, propped himself up with his broom-handle, and all of them watched in silence the return of Andrew:
He and his friend marched sedately up to the group, whisking their tails jauntily and keeping their ears well cocked, and you could tell by the look in Andrew’s eye that, whatever he meant, he meant business.
"That dreadful dog!" said Miss Lark, looking at Andrew's companion. "Shoo! Shoo! Go home!" she cried.
But the dog just sat down on the pavement and scratched his right ear with his left leg and yawned.
"Go away! Go home! Shoo, I say!" said Miss Lark, waving her arms angrily at the dog.
"And you, Andrew," she went on, "come indoors this minute! Going out like that — all alone and without your overcoat. I am very displeased with you!"
Andrew barked lazily, but did not move.
"What do you mean, Andrew? Come in at once!" said Miss Lark.
Andrew barked again.
"He says," put in Mary Poppins, "that he’s not coming in."
Miss Lark turned and regarded her haughtily. "How do you know what my dog says, may I ask? Of course he will come in."
Andrew, however, merely shook his head and gave one or two low growls.
"He won't," said Mary Poppins. "Not unless his friend comes, too."
"Stuff and nonsense," said Miss Lark crossly. "That can't be what he says. As if I could have a great hulking mongrel like that inside my gate."
Andrew yapped three or four times.
"He says he means it," said Mary Poppins. "And what's more, he'll go and live with his friend unless his friend is allowed to come and live with him."
"Oh, Andrew, you can't — you can't, really — after all I've done for you and everything!" Miss Lark was nearly weeping.
Andrew barked and turned away. The other dog got up.
"Oh, he does mean it!" cried Miss Lark. "I see he does. He is going away." She sobbed a moment into her handkerchief, then she blew her nose and said:
"Very well, then, Andrew I give in. This — this common dog can stay. On condition, of course, that he sleeps in the coal-cellar."
"He insists, ma'am, that that won't do. His friend must have a silk cushion just like his and sleep in your room too. Otherwise he will go and sleep in the coal-cellar with his friend," said Mary Poppins.
"Andrew, how could you?" moaned Miss Lark. "I shall never consent to such a thing."
Andrew looked as though he were preparing to depart. So did the other dog.
"Oh, he's leaving me!" shrieked Miss Lark. "Very well, then, Andrew. It will be as you wish. He shall sleep in my room. But I shall never be the same again, never, never. Such a common dog!"
She wiped her streaming eyes and went on:
"I should never have thought it of you, Andrew. But I'll say no more, no matter what I think. And this — er — creature — I shall have to call Waif or Stray or — "
At that the other dog looked at Miss Lark very indignantly, and Andrew barked loudly.
"They say you must call him Willoughby and nothing else," said Mary Poppins. "Willoughby being his name."
"Willoughby! What a name! Worse and worse!" said Miss Lark despairingly. "What is he saying now?" For Andrew — was barking again.
"He says that if he comes back you are never to make him wear overcoats or go to the Hairdresser's again — that’s his last word," said Mary Poppins.
There was a pause.
"Very well," said Miss Lark at last. "But I warn you, Andrew, if you catch your death of cold — don't blame me!"
Further elements from both books were used for the West End and Broadway musical version of Mary Poppins. In 1993, legendary British musical producer Cameron Mackintosh (Les Miserables, Phantom of the Opera) approached Travers with the intent to turn her work into a musical. She acquiesced, on guarantee that nobody from the Disney production would be allowed anywhere near it. The use of some songs from the film was permitted, but the Sherman Brothers were absolutely prohibited from writing any more. So concerned was Travers that she even put these stipulations into her will.
However, after she passed away in 1996, Mackintosh and Disney Theatrical Productions began collaborating on the musical. Released as "Disney and Cameron Mackintosh present..." the musical fulfills its obligation not to involve the Shermans by featuring new music by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe alongside favourites like "Spoonful of Sugar" and "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious". Its story is not a direct adaptation of either the film or the books, taking inspiration and scenes from both. For example, a visit to the candy shop of Mrs. Corry from Mary Poppins and the arrival of Mr. Banks' terrifying old nanny Miss Andrew from Mary Poppins Comes Back are both included in the musical.
Chapter two, entitled "Miss Andrew's Lark", provides the inspiration for the musical's "Brimstone and Treacle" number:
They turned. Mary Poppins was gazing after Miss Andrew with a look that could have killed her.
"Odd!" she repeated with a long-drawn sniff. "That's not the word for her. Humph! I don't know how to bring up children, don't I? I'm impertinent, incapable, and totally unreliable, am I? We'll see about that!"
Jane and Michael were used to threats from Mary Poppins but to-day there was a note in her voice they had never heard before. They stared at her in silence, wondering what was going to happen.
A tiny sound, partly a sigh and partly a whistle, fell on the air.
"What was that?" said Jane quickly.
The sound came again, a little louder this time. Mary Poppins cocked her head and listened.
Again a faint chirping seemed to come from the doorstep.
"Ah!" cried Mary Poppins, triumphantly. "I might have known it!"
And with a sudden movement, she sprang at the circular object Miss Andrew had left behind and tweaked off the cover.
Beneath it was a brass bird-cage, very neat and shiny. And sitting at one end of the perch, huddled between his wings, was a small light-brown bird. He blinked a little as the afternoon light streamed down upon his head. Then he gazed solemnly about him with a round dark eye. His glance fell upon Mary Poppins and with a start of recognition he opened his beak and gave a sad, throaty little cheep. Jane and Michael had never heard such a miserable sound.
"Did she, indeed? Tch, tch, tch! You don't say!" said Mary Poppins nodding her head sympathetically.
"Chirp-irrup!" said the bird, shrugging its wings dejectedly.
"What? Two years? In that cage? Shame on her!" said Mary Poppins to the bird, her face flushing with anger.
The children stared. The bird was speaking in no language they knew and yet here was Mary Poppins carrying on an intelligent conversation with him as though she understood.
"What is it saying—" Michael began.
"Sh!" said Jane, pinching his arm to make him keep quiet.
They stared at the bird in silence. Presently he hopped a little way along the perch towards Mary Poppins and sang a note or two in a low questioning voice.
Mary Poppins nodded. "Yes — of course I know that field. Was that where she caught you?"
The bird nodded. Then he sang a quick trilling phrase that sounded like a question.
Mary Poppins thought for a moment. "Well," she said. "It's not very far. You could do it in about an hour. Flying South from here."
The bird seemed pleased. He danced a little on his perch and flapped his wings excitedly. Then his song broke out again, a stream of round, clear notes, as he looked imploringly at Mary Poppins.
She turned her head and glanced cautiously up the stairs.
"Will I? What do you think? Didn't you hear her call me a Young Person? Me!" She sniffed disgustedly.
The bird's shoulders shook as though he were laughing.
Mary Poppins bent down.
"What are you going to do, Mary Poppins?" cried Michael, unable to contain himself any longer. "What kind of a bird is that?"
"A lark," said Mary Poppins, briefly, turning the handle of the little door. "You're seeing a lark in a cage for the first time — and the last!"
And as she said that the door of the cage swung open. The Lark, flapping his wings, swooped out with a shrill cry and alighted on Mary Poppins' shoulder.
"Humph!" she said, turning her head. "That's an improvement, I should think?"
"Chirr-up!" agreed the Lark, nodding.
"Well, you'd better be off," Mary Poppins warned him. "She'll be back in a minute."
At that the Lark burst into a stream of running notes, flicking its wings at her and bowing his head again and again.
"There, there!" said Mary Poppins, gruffly. "Don't thank me. I was glad to do it. I couldn't see a Lark in a cage! Besides, you heard what she called me!"
The Lark tossed back his head and fluttered his wings. He seemed to be laughing heartily. Then he cocked his head on one side and listened.
"Oh, I quite forgot!" came a trumpeting voice from upstairs. "I left Caruso outside. On those dirty steps. I must go and get him."
Miss Andrew's heavy tread sounded on the stairs.
"What?" she called back in reply to some question of Mrs. Banks. "Oh, he's my lark, my lark, Caruso! I call him that because he used to be such a beautiful singer. What? No, he doesn't sing at all now, not since I trapped him in the field and put him in a cage. I can't think why."
The voice was coming nearer, growing louder as it approached.
"Certainly not!" it called back to Mrs. Banks. "I will fetch him myself. I wouldn't trust one of those impudent children with him. Your banisters want polishing. They should be done at once."
Tramp-tramp. Tramp-tramp. Miss Andrew's steps sounded through the hall.
"Here she comes!" hissed Mary Poppins. "Be off with you!" She gave her shoulder a little shake.
"Quickly!" cried Michael anxiously.
"Oh, hurry!" said Jane.
The Twins waved their hands.
With a quick movement the Lark bent his head and pulled out one of his wing feathers with his beak.
"Chirr-chirr-chirr-irrup!" he sang and stuck the feather into the ribbon of Mary Poppins' hat. Then he spread his wings and swept into the air.
At the same moment Miss Andrew appeared in the doorway.
"What?" she shouted, when she saw Jane and Michael and the Twins. "Not gone up to bed yet? This will never do. All well-brought-up children—" she looked balefully at Mary Poppins, "should be in bed by five o'clock. I shall certainly speak to your Father."
She glanced round.
"Now, let me see. Where did I leave my—" She broke off suddenly. The uncovered cage, with its open door, stood at her feet. She stared down at it as though she were unable to believe her eyes.
"Why? When? Where? What? Who?" she spluttered. Then she found her full voice.
"Who took off that cover?" she thundered. The children trembled at the sound.
"Who opened that cage?"
There was no reply.
"Where is my Lark?"
Still there was silence as Miss Andrew stared from one child to another. At last her gaze fell accusingly upon Mary Poppins.
"You did it!" she cried, pointing her large finger. "I can tell by the look on your face! How dare you! I shall see that you leave this house to-night — bag and baggage! You impudent, impertinent, worthless—"
From the air came a little trill of laughter. Miss Andrew looked up. The Lark was lightly balancing on his wings just above the sunflowers.
"Ah, Caruso — there you are!" cried Miss Andrew. "Now come along! Don't keep me waiting. Come back to your nice, clean cage, Caruso, and let me shut the door!"
But the Lark just hung in the air and went into peals of laughter, flinging back his head and clapping his wings against his sides.
Miss Andrew bent and picked up the cage and held it above her head.
"Caruso — what did I say? Come back at once!" she commanded, swinging the cage towards him. But he swooped past it and brushed against Mary Poppins' hat.
"Chirp-irrup!" he said, as he sped by.
"All right," said Mary Poppins, nodding in reply.
"Caruso, did you hear me?" cried Miss Andrew. But now there was a hint of dismay in her loud voice. She put down the cage and tried to catch the Lark with her hands. But he dodged and flickered past her, and with a lift of his wings, dived higher into the air.
A babble of notes streamed down to Mary Poppins.
"Ready!" she called back.
And then a strange thing happened.
Mary Poppins fixed her eyes upon Miss Andrew and Miss Andrew, suddenly spell-bound by that strange dark gaze, began to tremble on her feet. She gave a little gasp, staggered uncertainly forward and with a thundering rush she dashed towards the cage. Then — was it that Miss Andrew grew smaller or the cage larger? Jane and Michael could not be sure. All they knew for certain was that the cage door shut to with a little click and closed upon Miss Andrew.
"Oh! Oh! Oh!" she cried, as the Lark swooped down and seized the cage by the handle.
"What am I doing? Where am I going?" Miss Andrew shouted as the cage swept into the air.
"I have no room to move! I can hardly breathe!" she cried.
"Neither could he!" said Mary Poppins quietly.
Miss Andrew rattled at the bars of the cage.
"Open the door! Open the door! Let me out, I say! Let me out!"
"Humph! Not likely," said Mary Poppins in a low, scoffing voice.
On and on went the Lark, climbing higher and higher and singing as he went. And the heavy cage, with Miss Andrew inside it, lurched after him, swaying dangerously as it swung from his claw.
Above the clear song of the Lark they heard Miss Andrew hammering at the bars and crying:
"I who was Well-Brought-Up! I who was Always Right! I who was Never Mistaken. That I should come to this!"
Mary Poppins gave a curious, quiet little laugh.
The Lark looked very small now, but still he circled upwards, singing loudly and triumphantly. And still Miss Andrew and her cage circled heavily after him, rocking from side to side, like a ship in a storm.
"Let me out, I say! Let me out!" Her voice came screaming down.
Suddenly the Lark changed his direction. His song ceased for a moment as he darted sideways. Then it began again, wild and clear, as shaking the ring of the cage from his foot, he flew towards the South.
"He's off!" said Mary Poppins.
"Where?" cried Jane and Michael.
"Let me out, I say! Let me out!"
"Home — to his meadows," she replied, gazing upwards.
"But he's dropped the cage!" said Michael, staring.
And well he might stare, for the cage was now hurtling downwards, lurching and tumbling, end over end. They could clearly see Miss Andrew, now standing on her head and now on her feet as the cage turned through the air. Down, down, it came, heavy as a stone, and landed with a plop on the top step.
With a fierce movement, Miss Andrew tore open the door. And it seemed to Jane and Michael as she came out that she was as large as ever and even more frightful.
For a moment she stood there, panting, unable to speak, her face purplier than before.
"How dare you!" she said in a throaty whisper, pointing a trembling finger at Mary Poppins. And Jane and Michael saw that her eyes were no longer angry and scornful, but full of terror.
"You — you—" stammered Miss Andrew huskily, "you cruel, disrespectful, unkind, wicked, wilful girl — how could you, how could you?"
Mary Poppins fixed her with a look. From half-closed eyes, she gazed revengefully at Miss Andrew for a long moment.
"You said I didn't know how to bring up children," she said, speaking slowly and distinctly.
Miss Andrew shrank back, trembling with fear.
"I–I apologise," she said, gulping.
"That I was impudent, incapable, and totally unreliable," said the quiet, implacable voice.
Miss Andrew cowered beneath the steady gaze.
"It was a mistake. I–I'm sorry," she stammered.
"That I was a Young Person!" continued Mary Poppins, remorselessly.
"I take it back," panted Miss Andrew. "All of it. Only let me go. I ask nothing more." She clasped her hands and gazed at Mary Poppins, imploringly.
"I can't stay here," she whispered. "No, no! Not here! I beg you to let me go!"
Mary Poppins gazed at her, long and thoughtfully. Then with a little outward movement of her hand, "Go!" she said.
Miss Andrew gave a gasp of relief. "Oh, thank you! Thank you!" Still keeping her eyes fixed on Mary Poppins she staggered backwards down the steps, then she turned and went stumbling unevenly down the garden path.
Besides the necessary massaging of a book into a film and the addition of a whole plotline about Mr. Banks and his relationship to his family, the biggest but most subtle change to Mary Poppins was the personality of the eponymous nanny. In the hands of Walt Disney and Julie Andrews, Mary Poppins was softened considerably, made much more kindly and enchanting. She has echoes of the tartness and charming vanity she displays in the book, but she is comprehensibly likable.
As P.L. Travers wrote her - perhaps as an extension of herself - she is much less likable. In the first book in the series she is sufficiently charming and compassionate to engender devotion. In Mary Poppins Comes Back she is much less so. Statistically, Travers' favourite word to describe how Mary Poppins speaks is "snapped." Presumably she gained the children's love through respect and the incredible adventures she takes them on, because she does not appear to love them very much. In fact, there is more than enough cruelty in Mary Poppins Comes Back to go around. Everyone has a streak of meanness.
That evolution of the literary Mary Poppins into an increasingly cruel person might just be Travers, drunk on her own popularity, letting herself show through. Mark Poppins Comes Back is about twice as long as Mary Poppins with little to show for it. Most of its chapters are one-to-one retreads of chapters from the previous book: in the chapter "Miss Lark's Andrew" we meet the dog Andrew and his tense relationship with Miss Lark, while in "Miss Andrew's Lark" we meet a lark bird with a tense relationship to Miss Andrew. Michael has a "Bad Tuesday" in Mary Poppins and Jane has a "Bad Wednesday" in Mary Poppins Comes Back. We meet Mary Poppins' odd relative Uncle Albert in the first book and Mr. Turvey in the second. In the first book we encounter the twins forgetting how to speak to the birds as they grow up, and in the second we meet the new baby forgetting its celestial pre-life. So on and so forth. After coming off the first book actually wanting to like Travers' writing despite her, Mary Poppins Comes Back ends up as something of a disappointment.
During the remainder of her life, Travers consistently resisted any offer by Disney to make a sequel or further adaptations of her works, even though it is largely because of Disney that anybody today knows of Mary Poppins. That film which she so hated ironically saved her work from the memory hole of respected but unread literary classics.
And Disney is currently working on a sequel to boot.
And Disney is currently working on a sequel to boot.