Yes, it's a blog about reading.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Back to Mary Poppins

Back to Mary Poppins! It’s hard to imagine a time when movies were not readily available for our viewing pleasure.  I remember when watching “The Wizard of Oz” on TV was a major event.  It was only on once a year, so the time my grandfather turned the channel to a football game stands out quite clearly in my mind. As the “New Yorker” article points out, the movie “Mary Poppins” ‘left a deep impression on the generations of children who saw it during its three theatrical releases, in 1964, 1973, and 1980.’ That was it, three chances in almost two decades to see a great movie. All that changed rather quickly with the advent of the VCR, with movies and taped TV specials becoming daily fodder for our children.  But the interesting thing about the Mary Poppins article in the New Yorker is the described dichotomy between the book and the movie. The actual character of Mary Poppins and the tone of the books (apparently there was a whole series) were very different from the Disney version. So much so that the author wept at the premiere.  Disney spent fifteen years ‘wooing’ Travers to get control of her story and despite her caveats, including the ‘unheard of at Disney’ script approval, she wasn’t able to control the finished product. Well, she became famous, the movie won five Academy Awards, and the rest is history. What saddens me is that the books seem to be for the most part forgotten. And that is the true crime of the Disney empire, to have co-opted children’s literature so that some greatest stories ever written are no longer read but are packaged in a sentimental, yet cynical way for easy consumption, like fast food. I’m thinking in particular of “Peter Pan”, a book I read many times and loved. I can still remember something of the strangeness of it and the wonderful phrasing (“’My name is Wendy Moira Angela Darling. What’s yours?’ ‘Peter Pan,’ he replied, thinking for the first time that it was a rather short name.”) I’m sure no one reads that book any more, or if they do, it is in a ‘Disneyfied’ version.


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