January 29, 2012

How ‘Mary Poppins’ was Disneyfied

The Mary Poppins series, written by P.L Travers, was the perfect source material for Disney. The stories were designed to appeal to the childhood imagination – with each chapter a new adventure, brimming with colour, magic and splendor.

The very premise of Mary Poppins was faultlessly appealing to the mind of a child: Four young, rambunctious siblings, desperate for fun and vying for attention, are gifted with a Nanny who on a daily basis takes them away from the hum-drum of home and exposes them to the mysteries and magic of the world.

In reading Mary Poppins, I admit that I was surprised at how true the Disney film was to the original texts. The books provided such a rich array of stories and characters – the adapters seemed to just select their favourites and string them all together.

Of course, there were some key differences… I’m sure fans of the film have already raised an eyebrow at the mention of four children. Yes, indeed. In adapting Mary Poppins to the big screen, Disney omitted two of its central characters: the gurgling baby twins John and Barbara Banks.

If you read the books, your other eyebrow will also surely rise at the original pavement picture scene. Rather than as a day trip for the Banks children, P.L Travers intended it only as a date for two.

In the books, Mary Poppins goes off to visit Bert “the Match Man” on her half-day off, “every third Tuesday from two till five.” The two would spend the time exchanging furtive glances, giving proud compliments, sharing tea and raspberry-jam cakes, and joyously roaming the countryside together, hand-in-hand.

In creating a film version of Mary Poppins that was more suited for Disney audiences, the biggest changes were perhaps to Mary herself. In the film, Jane and Michael sing their desire for a Nanny with rosy cheeks and a cheery disposition, who will never be cross or cruel. What they get is the beauty of Julie Andrews who, as she states herself, is “practically perfect in every way”.

The Banks children of the books were a little more down-to-earth. For one, they didn’t sing, and two, they were accepting of a Nanny with some faults. Their Mary Poppins is much less likeable – she is strict, stern, abrupt, unyielding, and at times plain rude.

Of course the children are fond of Mary Poppins – mostly, they are enamored with her magical talents and knack for making the ordinary extraordinary – although they are also frightened of her “terrible glances” and “threatening speeches”.

Mary Poppins is overly concerned with what is proper and fashionable and is prone to “superior sniffs” whenever the smallest thing offends her. In her eyes, she alone is the perfect specimen of a human being. In fact, her favourite past time is looking in shop windows “because she saw herself reflected there.” You only see a glimmer of this Mary Poppins in the film, when looks at herself approvingly in the nursery mirror and ever-so-sweetly insists that the children wear their hats and gloves at all times when out of doors.

Despite the character flaws, for fans of Mary Poppins the original books are a must-read. Unlike the film, they delve into and explain why Mary is the way she is, and how she can do the things that she does.

If you liked this post, you may also enjoy:
'Disneyfied': The Disney adaptation process


  1. I LOVE the movie, but have never read the books. Your post really makes me want to read the books.

    1. I'm thinkin' of reading the original novels

  2. Great to hear! I love the idea that my little blog could be influencing people to pick up a book, rather than being content with just the film. Not that you generally need any encouragement to read :)