Mary Poppins vs. PL Travers

So one of my favorite films growing up was Mary Poppins. The colors, joy, and plot was one that I loved when I was a kid. Needless to say, I should’ve read the Mary Poppins novels long time ago and never got to it, until now! I just finished the book this morning and wanted to write a quick comparison of the film to the book. Then move on to pulling from the film “Saving Mr. Banks” to explain why there are drastic differences between the Disney film and Travers’ novel.

Lets start off with the fact that the novel is NOT represented by the film. Some of the chapters are similar to the subplots in the film such as the art on the sidewalk and laughing Uncle Albert. However there are lots of differences, like how Jane and Michael have twin younger siblings. Moreover, there is very minimal reference to Mr. Banks’ bank and his colleagues as well as the ending of the film is one of happiness, whereas the book just ends with the wind changing to the West and Mary Poppins leaving. It was odd, for the biggest difference had to be the personality of Mary Poppins. In the novel, she is cold and bossy always saying spit spot. And when Jane and Michael try to get close to her, Mary really is quite standoffish. In the film, Julie Andrews is a bit cold but not to the same extent as the character that Travers wrote. Let alone she sings and smiles quite a bit.

Now, on the topic of the coldness of the novel Mary Poppins, Travers wanted her to emulate the nanny that came to the outback when she was a little girl. Also, the character of Mr. Banks in the novel is similar to that of Travers’ own father and that was her major driving force for writing the novels. Yet, I find it curious that Mr. Banks was not a major character in the novel. He was mentioned heavily in the first chapter, but throughout the book he said a quote here and there, but never really had any major contributions. Why did Travers take such offense to Disney’s portrayal of him when she didn’t find it important to put him as a full character?

Additionally, the film takes the novel and adds some major “happy” elements to the Mary Poppins plot. This may be corny, but I think in order for the story to be a true Disney film, there needed to be the injection of childhood joy. But, this begs to question what the theme that Travers wanted to establish with the novel. Travers did not have a great childhood growing up with a very depressed mother and a drunk for a father. Her saving grace in a way was the nanny that came to help with their family. Through the film, this time of Travers’ life had to be the saddest part of her life. From this, it is understandable that the novel was not supposed to be joyous, but a sense of reality in a family that needed help.

Regardless of how the novel doesn’t align with the film, I still think it is a worthwhile adventure to read the novel, watch the Disney film, and then watch Saving Mr. Banks. They are all very thought provoking as well as enjoyable!

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