‘A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down,
The medicine go down, the medicine go down,
Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down,
In a most delightful way!’
It’s been fifty years since the release of that most famous and funny of children’s animated movies Mary Poppins (first released in August 1964). A movie whose animation was quite advanced for its time, whose catchy songs were beacons in our generation’s childhood, and who is an iconic example of how brainwashing and influencing children’s movies can be.
I can already imagine you pop-eyed and surprised, asking yourselves what on earth do I mean.
Mary Poppins, most of you think, was only a sweet children’s movie, about a jolly singing nanny who took care of a dysfunctional family living in Edwardian London in around 1910. She brought the usually naughty, attention-seeking children closer to their mismatched parents in an atmosphere of music and laughter. By the end of the film, we realise that nothing is as important as family, and that money (the father, if you remember, was a banker) is definitively not everything. That was, seemingly, the main plot.
Or was it?
While the father was portrayed as a busy banker, valuing his career and money more than his children, which is obviously not ideal, the mother too was depicted as a bad parent. Indeed, she was almost painted as a semi-hussy, gallivanting with other women around London, leaving her children at home with the servants. Why did she do this? Was she shopping? Flirting with other men? Going to clubs and getting drunk? No, she was simply promoting and trying to further the suffragette movement. A movement which apparently, Walt Disney, as well as the film’s writer, found to be detrimental to the ‘normal bourgeoisie family’ which, according to Uncle Walt, should be comprised of a doting father, a stay-at-home mother, a responsible sister, a cheeky brother, a white dog and a fluffy black cat.
The suffragettes were those women who fought for more rights. Frustrated with their social and economic situation, they campaigned vigorously for better women’s rights, which not only included the right to vote, but also to be able to legally own property separately from their husbands or fathers. They also fought to put a stop to various kinds of gender discrimination.
Mrs Banks, the mother of this ‘dysfunctional family’ who is targeted by the singing nanny, was one of these suffragettes promoting ‘Votes for Women.’ However, by the end of the movie, she is ‘finally’ made to realise that a woman’s place is in the home with her family, managing the servants properly and taking care of the house. So much for women’s rights aye Walt?
Obviously when I was ten years old, I was only too happy to sing along with Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins and the chimney sweep, Dick Van Dyke, not to mention trying to twist my tongue around that interesting word ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’.
As I grew older, however, I started to feel that something was just wrong, and I remember that I actually realised what it was around ten years ago, when I first watched the movie The Stepford Wives (2004), which is basically a film about how the perfect wife is supposed to be, never mind her own personality or her needs and wants. This movie, somehow, reminded me of Mary Poppins, but I couldn’t pinpoint why until I actually watched a re-run of the old children’s favourite, and understood that it actually followed the same principles. Only while in The Stepford Wives, the husband and community realise that individuals do not simply fall into prescribed categories, Mary Poppins actually ends the story ‘happily ever after’ with the opposite ideal – promoting how a woman should stifle her own values and individuality in order for her to take care of her children – as though individuality and the love for your child were mutually exclusive!! Children’s movies are a big influence on the way their mind works, and to my mind, messages such as this one, can portray the wrong message.
While I am the first one to admit that I have an alternative opinion about most things, I am always quite clear on this one. Seeing the light about this movie from my childhood brought home a totally new perspective on things and, at the time, actually creeped me out. In fact, to this day, whenever someone asks me to name what I consider to be the top three scariest movies I have ever watched, ‘Mary Poppins’ is always one of them.