Follow TV Tropes


Headscratchers / Mary Poppins

Go To

    open/close all folders 

    Who's the Old Lady? 
  • The old woman during the "children's flight" scenes bugs me for some reason. Was she just a batty old lady offering to "help" but too scary for them to accept, or is she supposed (through some convention/trope I can't recognize) to have had some more sinister motive (abduction, etc.)?
    • We never find out. She could well have been either. She may have even been senile and thought she really was their granny but with insufficient evidence, we can't say for sure.

    All That for Tuppence?! 
  • The scene at the bank, where Michael's father and the board of directors are trying to persuade him to put his tuppence in their bank. Even in 1910, that much money can't have had much buying power, so why would these men go to that much effort to get his business? It would be one thing if there were already an account in Michael's name (which I could even believe, what with George Banks' job and characterization to that point; he'd be the type to think of that), but the implication is that there isn't. Yeah, I can see George Banks wanting his son to start learning about money management, follow in his footsteps, that kind of thing, but isn't this a bit much?
    • Yes it is. That's the point of the scene. They're greedy men, and they covet every single penny they see.
      • Maybe, but I still think it's stretching plausibility for George. By this point, we've already gotten a good idea of George's character. Heck, he's one of the first characters we meet, and the first song of the movie exists to establish his character. Him being that greedy doesn't gel with the characterization we've already gotten for him. The board of directors, fine. We haven't met them before this scene, and them being that greedy does gel with what we know of them. One might think they'd have something better to do with their time, but other than that, I'll buy it.
      • Actually, it's perfectly in character with Mr. Banks. Mr. Banks isn't really acting out of greed. He's acting out of spite. It's not so much that he wants to teach his son to invest money in his bank so much as it is that he wants to subvert Mary Poppins' authority.
      • I disagree. For Banks at least, he didn't care about the tuppence in the bank; he wanted his children to like him and what he does. (His verse was all about what wonderful things banks do, not about giving the bank money). However, he didn't understand how and couldn't break his shell to understand that he should do child-things with them and was trying to make them do adult-things.
      • Another motive for Banks was that he sort of looked up to them. After they call him to tell him to come by he mentions wanting to walk with giants. His father also worked for them apparently so it's not a stretch that he would ignore the absurdity of their demand for Michael's small amount of money.
    • It's not just that they're greedy, it's that they take a long view of things. If they persuade Michael, the son of an up-and-coming executive to open an account and get into the habit of saving and investing, then several years later his savings will have grown to a substantial sum. Tuppence today equals pounds down the road.
      • Try explaining that to a 7-year-old boy who has just been introduced to the idea of donating to charity (i.e. "feed the birds").
      • It's not that they take the long view per se; it's that they take a needlessly financial view. Everything that can be measured and tracked financially is considered meaningful, while everything else is assumed to be pointless. Marry Poppins' whole point is that this actually a really limited way of looking at things.
    • And if you're wondering, tuppence (two pence) in 1910 is about seventy cents American in 2010. So maybe Michael could buy a candy bar with his coins, but it's obviously not going to result in any appreciable amount via compound interest anytime soon. Specifically, a basic 5% interest savings account would take twelve years just to double the tuppence.
      • At the time, a typical bar of Cadbury's chocolate would have cost about 1.5 old pence.
      • Beside the point, he wanted to feed the birds (tuppence a bag).
      • Of course, but in today's world we don't really buy bags of birdseed from homeless women, so a comparison to a modern product was needed.
    • I think it's fair to go easy on George here. Here in the 21st century, people in places like Silicon Valley are really excited and passionate about creating the future, and venture capitalists are just as excited to help bring it about by funding it (and not coincidentally, getting rich along the way.) George and the other bank partners are the venture capitalists of 1910, in a still-dawning Industrial Age, making possible the growth of a brave new world. That's just as exciting then as it is now. And they're doing it in a patriotic way that empowers the rise of the British Empire. (Even avaricious old Mr. Dawes is big on that - "When stand the banks of England", etc.) George is still young enough to be idealistic about that kind of thing, and probably is more than a little frustrated that his children don't share his enthusiasm.
    • While I do agree they are being stupid, remember what happens when they ask Michael how much money he has and he says he has tuppence. Mr. Dawes Sr. hobbles in, saying that was precisely how he himself started. Maybe they see Michael as another link to continue the chain, as George's father himself worked at the bank too. It might not really be about the tuppence but seeing themselves in Michael and wanting to convince him... which makes their stubbornness all the stupider.
      • Note that Dawes Sr. is very old, and very, very traditionalist himself. It's possible that he's also getting a bit senile, and is still judging how much value tuppence has in 1910 based on how much the same amount was worth back in the mid-19th century.
    • Funnily enough, this becomes a heartwarming Brick Joke in the sequel: Dawes Jr. recounts the story of the tuppence to Michael's kids, and reveals that George Banks invested the tuppence that Michael gave to him as an apology for causing the bank riot. The money ends up being enough to pay off the loans that Michael took against his house to pay the bills. So it seems that maybe George and the bankers had a point, but Michael could only appreciate it when he got older.

    Let's Go Promote a Man 
  • At the end of the movie, Mr. Banks loses his job and is "drummed out" of the bank. At that point, he becomes a changed man and suggests they go fly kites. All of a sudden, at the kite-flying "party", the Banks family runs into the board of trustees and Mr. Banks not only gets his job back, but a promotion as well. Could all this progress he's made be erased?
    • No. By that point both Mr. Banks and the Old Men of the Bank have learned their lessons on a healthier work/life balance. That is the significance of them all flying kites with friends and families instead of slaving away over account books in cold and lonely offices. The job is still there, and Mr. Banks and the Old Men are going to go back to it (not spending a life of frivolity alone) but they've all learned that amidst the work they must make time for each other. Everyone should make time to fly a kite now and then.
    • And the children have also learned that their father has a lot of work to do and just because he'll be working a lot of the time, it doesn't mean he doesn't love them. And getting promoted probably means he'll have a bit more clout to make more time for his family.

    Why Only "Practically" Perfect? 
  • Practically perfect in every way? Where does the 'practically' part come into it?
    • No Canon/Word of God answers in either the movie or book, but some popular WMGs include...
      1. That an actual perfect person like Mary is, among their other virtues, too modest to admit that they're perfect.
      2. That Mary Poppins can't preemptively help people from unhappiness.
      3. That she can't help everyone.
      4. The so-called "fact" that she probably has never really been "romantic" with anyone — save Bert, and even that is dependent upon her being needed in London.
      5. That she can't get her parrot to stop back-talking to her.
      6. That eventually, people don't need her anymore, echoed in Nanny McPhee.
    • She also doesn't change the Banks family on her own. Bert not only seems to nudge her into taking the kids on several adventures, but is ultimately the one who gets Mr Banks to question the way he lives his life and treats his family. If she were truly perfect, she would do that all on her own.
    • She does have a bit of a temper, doesn't she? That mars any claim of 100% perfection. Besides, she lied outright about a few of the adventures, under the guise of being an ordinary nanny. Dishonesty isn't quite perfect behavior, is it?
      • In the books it's less lying, and more displaying a mock outrage that effectively quells any remarks the children might make later. Mary knows that remarks like, "And then Mary Poppins took us to the moon!" would raise eyebrows at the least, and more seriously have the children accused of lying (a capital sin for a child in Edwardian London); so she deflects her charges' excitement by dismissing the whole thing as foolish, "Go to the moon? The very idea!" I've noticed Mary never flat out denies what happened, just states that it's very improper. It could be cruel, but was quite effective, leaving the children free for more adventures.
    • It was probably a joke about humility. She actually is perfect, but part of that perfection is humility, which means she can never claim to actually be perfect. It's a simple Catch-22.
      • It wouldn't sound as good if she said, "Absolutely and undoubtedly perfect in every way."
    • Most likely for Added Alliterative Appeal.
    • After thinking about it, it's impossible to be absolutely perfect, especially when different people have different ideas of perfection. Thus she can only say that she is 'practically' perfect (in a sense of being close to and of being realistically).
      • This, and it might be a hint of narcissism. Not that it really matters.
    • Absolutely perfect people don't hiccup after taking their r-r-rum punch medicine.
      • Or they wouldn't consider r-r-rum punch their favorite flavor.

    Why Deny? 
  • This also sort of applies to the book, but this notion that Mary Poppins accepts the magical adventures at the time, but the instant it's over (a personal Big Lipped Alligator Filter?) she's all "I'm a traditional nanny and we only do ordinary stuff; magic does not exist". *Hand-wringing*
    • Maybe it is happening in the minds of the children? But then, what prompts Banks' sudden epiphany?
    • Perhaps it was simple Blatant Lies on Mary's part. Both as some sort of obscure lesson for the children, and self- (and job) preservation: after all, CHILDREN will tell you they jumped through chalk drawings, rode a carousel that came to life, and the nursery cleaned itself by magic, and adults say, "Aw, how cute, they have imaginations." If an adult responsible for said children says, "Yep, absolutely, and while they were riding the carousel the local sweep and I were dancing with penguin waiters", at best they might wind up dismissed. At worst, well, early Edwardian mental hospitals weren't the most fun places on Earth to be...
      • Well yeah, they'd think she's insane at first. But would it really be that hard for her to immediately prove them wrong?
      • Well then we get into doylian explanations. Yes, she could show people that her magic is real, but then that would completely halt or derail the storyline.
    • Further thought: one of the lessons (even the main lesson) she was trying to teach them was that there is a time for fun and a time for seriousness. As part of this, she would encourage their imagination through their outings (whether it was real and done by magic or all in their minds doesn't matter), but by then turning around and saying, "What are you talking about? That never happened", she's reminding them that the Mr. Bankses of the world will not look kindly on or accept anything having to do with fun, entertainment, or imagination, even without magic being involved. So it's both a wink and nudge to hint at what really happened and a reminder "this has to be between us, because no one is going to believe you". An encouragement to keep imagining and dreaming, but also pointing out that there's still a realistic side to life from which you have to keep such things separate.
      • But if those things actually are possible, why couldn't they fall into that realistic side of life as well? If the magical stuff actually happened, then that means magic isn't just fantasy in that world, in which case why shouldn't it be used for serious things as well just like anything else that's useful? When used in a practical way, it could really make life easier, and in fact you even do see it being used in the movie for many purposes like this.
      • I think the issue there is that only Marry Poppins can do magic. There's no use teaching the kids to rely on magic to solve their problems if they're going to lose that magic as soon as she leaves town. So instead she uses magic to teach them good life lessons that will still apply after she's gone.
    • I assumed Mary was doing this deliberately. Clearly she isn’t going to tell the parents about the magic adventures. Her jarring attitude that “nothing happened” has some advantages. If she just told the children to keep their adventures secret, they might feel that they had some leverage over Mary by knowing her big secret and would engage in power struggles with her (they are, after all, supposed to be experts at making nannies miserable, and they don't follow orders well). Her total denial undercuts that whole line of thought, once the adventure is over, talking about it is not simply disallowed, it is totally futile and won’t be acknowledged. Also, having the children and Mary agree to keep secrets from their parents would create a barrier between children and parents that Mary does not want. Instead, she is basically telling the children “when your parents are busy we will do some amazing things, but once playtime is over we are going to live in your parents’ world.” It cuts the children down to size so they don’t get the attitude that their association with Mary makes them superior to their parents.
    • Maybe she just enjoys trolling people. It's a small character flaw.

  • Are Jane and Michael in school?
    • Wealthy children in the early 20th century often were taught by governesses up until a certain age. Why Mary Poppins does no teaching, I can't say.
    • Mary Poppins is the nanny, not the governess. The children may have a tutor for their conventional schooling.
    • Alternately, they may go to school and simply be on holiday. The movie, at least, seems to take place over only a very few days. It could be summer.

    Sucky Sets 
  • Why such a cramped and fake-looking setting? If budgets were an issue, they still had enough for location shoots in London if they updated the setting to The '60s.
    • The entire film was produced and recorded inside a four-stage complex in Southern California. You'd be surprised at how much of "London" was actually matte paintings.
    • Probably to give it a distinctive look, and they wanted to make it as close to the original in terms of setting as possible.
    • I think they were probably too attached to the Edwardian setting to ruin it for the sake of having location shooting. Also, filming entirely on sound stages was much more common back then before the changing sensibilities (and better technology) of the New Hollywood era.
    • The books are actually set in the 1930s but Walt Disney had a particular fondness for The Gay '90s and the turn of the century. That's why I assume the film was set in the Edwardian Era. It was viewed as a much more innocent and nostalgic time. The sinking of the Titanic and then World War I were viewed as a collective end to that innocence.
    • PL Travers (the author) insisted it was set in the Edwardian Era. (This is mentioned on pages 254 & 255 in my copy of her biography Mary Poppins, She Wrote.)

    Why Does Banks Believe Mary? 
  • In rewatching the movie, it occurs to me: Mr. Banks doesn't dispute any of the adventures, he just thinks that they're unproductive wastes of time. At no point does he tell Mary Poppins, "Look, the children are lying about what they've been doing. Could you do something about these flights of fancy and teach them the difference between fantasy and reality?"

    The Admiral Avoids Arrest 
  • How the heck does Admiral Boom get away with regularly firing off cannons in a populated neighborhood without drawing noise complaints or racking up numerous public safety violations?
    • Too rich and/or powerful for anybody to touch him, probably.
      • Bert does say that, "The whole world takes its time from Greenwich. But Greenwich, they say, takes its time from Admiral Boom," so he is a man of no small importance.
    • For that matter, where do his shots land? There is literally nowhere for them to go that will not damage a building and/or hurt somebody.
      • Maybe he uses just gunpowder, as noted below, makes a lot of noise and smoke, but doesn't shoot anything.
      • Then how do you explain the cricket scene with the fireworks?
      • Fair point, he does use actual fireworks at one point against the "Hottentots".
    • To top question: it's part of the point, he's doing something ridiculous, but everyone finds it easier to just roll their eyes and do their best to ignore it than to acknowledge the ridiculousness by doing something about it. To the first commenter: he's probably just lighting gunpowder without actually having a projectile in the cannon. He's effectively just using it as a signal cannon.
    • ...and the British love their eccentrics.

    Feed the Birds... but Why? 
  • What was Mary Poppins' plan when she proposed the outing to the bank? If she thought the mere act of giving a tuppence to an old lady and feed some birds was going to change Mr. Banks' character completely, she either is too naive or overestimated the influence she had on him, if she *wanted* him to get fired (but then how did she foresee the riot at the bank?) that makes her completely unlikeable. The most probable outcome would have been that Michael was forced to put his money in a bank and Mr. Banks feeling smug about having taught him a life lesson, while Michael's resentment for his father grew. It all seems to come down to a huge Batman Gambit with way too many uncertainties. While she is magical, nothing in the movies or books (correct me if I'm wrong, since I haven't read all of them) suggests that she can tell the future.
    • I suppose the least malicious conclusion is that Mary Poppins simply wanted George to take the children anywhere and spend a prolonged period of time with them. The bank is the easiest and most plausible place to trick him into taking them.
    • I've often thought that Mary Poppins did this because she felt that the only way to stop Mr. Banks and his employers from being so arrogant about life and other things in general was to knock them down a peg or two.
    • Mary's goal is to get the children and father to see eye to eye and understand each other. By getting the children to accompany their father to the bank, they would see his world and understand why he doesn't always have time for them. And for George, it allows him to actually spend time with his children. Note that George is actually excited about showing the children the bank, so perhaps Mary suggested it for that reason - as an outing to the park might mean that George only goes out of obligation and doesn't actually spend time with the children. Essentially she's both forcing them together and subtly encouraging George to take an actual interest in how his children are raised (until now he'd been happy to get Winifred to hire nannies to keep the children from bothering him).
    • Mary had a twofold goal, and it's in line with what Bert told Jane and Michael in the alley. 1) The kids think their father is a boring fuddy duddy who doesn't really love them but dislikes them at best. By the time they run from the bank they're convinced he doesn't like them let alone love them. 2) Banks knows from Winnie and all the nannies they've gone through that his children are misbehaving little rapscallions (or just high spirited children of 8 and 7 depending on your point of view) when not in his rightfully strict and regimented presence. But he's never seen that for himself. Mary knows that if they're ever going to mend this family they are going to have to meet somewhere in the middle. So if she suggests feeding the birds, and the children ask — George will allow it and maybe become a bit softer toward his children being children. If they pass up the bird feeding, the children will see the bank and realize that George is in a cage, just like Bert said. It didn't work out that way precisely, but the reaction was delayed. The children gave back the tuppence in hopes it would make up for their behaviour (which they realized was wrong and got their father in trouble), and seeing the tuppence made George realize his children were just being children, and he was about to be fired for something all adults, especially those with children of their own, should already know.

    All-Day Bank Trip? 
  • Was George really planning on keeping the children with him at the bank all day? This is his job, somehow I doubt the bosses would take kindly to him saying "Thank you for indulging my children; could you spare me for an hour so I can take them home again?" As a junior partner, does he have a personal secretary to foist the children onto for a day? Or did George's day off happen to coincide with Mary Poppins' so he really wasn't expected to work that day?
    • It won't take him an hour to take them back home - he walks to work at the bank every day. In any case, he doesn't seem to have planned this whole outing thing very well.
      • It's not his usual one-way commute walk, he has to go both ways and make sure someone's around to take care of the children. Throw in a glass of water or a bathroom break and it may well take him an hour just to be safe.
    • From how the song goes, it seems that he was planning to keep the children there all day to watch him work and learn about what actually goes on in the bank.
    • There are phones! We saw them used! He could've rung up the maid or Winnie to come get his children if they became too much of a handful for him at work.
      • Winnie can't get the children, she's too busy chaining herself to the Prime Minister's carriage. It's her turn, you know.
      • But there's still Mrs. Brill and Ellen.

    Floating Fathers 
  • At the end of the movie, why did the banker's dad suddenly start floating when he laughed?
    • Seriously? In a movie with magical nannies and dancing chimney sweepers, that's supposed to be even a question?
    • Two possible reasons:
      • 1 - They said in the Uncle Albert scene that laughter literally lifting him up was contagious.
      • 2 - Uncle Albert spoke of visitors making him happy and their departure making him sad. It's entirely possible that the eldest was a visitor there at least once on matters of business or that Albert came to the bank in a good enough mood to laugh around them and place the tiniest bit of his infectious laughter.
    • It's just a Brick Joke: in this world - at least, the part of it that accommodates Mary Poppins - laughing too uproariously for too long can make people float.
      • To go along with this logic: it's also the first time the elder Mr. Dawes has ever gotten a joke, so this (for him) is the most hilarious thing in the world—more than enough to put him on the ceiling.
    • It's probably just cartoon physics.
    • Since Mary said something about "contagion", maybe in the Mary Poppins universe, there's a disease that makes you float when you laugh.

    Any Lyric Can Confuse You if You Let It 
  • In the musical, what do some of the lyrics in "Anything Can Happen if You Let It" mean? "Dreams are made of strong elastic"—does that mean you can "stretch" them? I suppose that "You can move a mountain if you use a larger spade" means that you can do difficult things if you're strategic, but what do "You can be a butterfly or just stay larval" and "If you reach for the heavens, you get the stars thrown in" mean? Likewise, what does "Jelly isn't jelly 'til you set it" mean? (I know what setting jelly is, I just don't know what the lyric is meant to mean.)
    • "You can be a butterfly, or just stay larval"- it's your choice whether to enjoy life by pushing your limits or taking it easy.
    • "If you reach for the heavens, you get the stars thrown in"- Ambition and fulfilling your goals is hard, but worth it, and can even have enjoyable parts you shouldn't forget about.
    • "Jelly isn't jelly 'til you set it"- everything has its own way, and to make something, you have to go through the necessary steps and be patient.

    One Day, I Sang it At the Race and Now My Wife's Annoyed 
  • Why did the man's "girl who's now his wife" hit him?
    • He was implying that he really didn't want to marry her and/or she forced him to get married. Either way, an insult.

    Why Not Let Go? 
  • No matter how greedy, you'd think a veteran financier like Dawes would have the common sense to let go of a measly tuppence immediately, rather than let some kid's hissy-fit provoke his bank's near-collapse.
    • It shows how out of touch the bankers are, going on and on about imperialistic accomplishments ("Railways through Africa, dams across the Nile, fleets of ocean greyhounds, majestic self-amortizing canals, plantations of ripening tea."), things that mean absolutely nothing to an eight-year-old boy. If George or the other bankers tried to explain to Michael that by investing, he'd get more money for things he'd like to do, such as feeding the birds, maybe Michael would've been more open about it.
    • Well, he is a pretty doddery old man. Maybe that's why he's not quick enough on the uptake to realise why it would be better not to cling onto that tuppence. Is it any more plausible that a riot in a bank could happen as easily as this? We're also talking about a film with flying nannies, people jumping into pavement drawings and a retired Admiral whose neighbours tolerate him firing a cannon off his rooftop several times a day.

    Hypocritical Mary 
  • How come the moral appears to be "don't be so serious and grumpy", yet sometimes, especially during "I Love to Laugh", Mary herself acts serious and grumpy?
    • Two possible explanations: a) Mary is all about teaching balance between fun and seriousness, and at the time they go to see Uncle Albert they're supposed to be running errands - so she disapproves of Uncle Albert wasting all his time laughing and getting nothing done. Or b) she's putting on the appearance of being serious and only joining in a Tsundere way.
    • Because the moral isn't "don't be serious and grumpy". The moral is "there's a time for work and a time for play, and both should be treated as equally important". That's why Bert's discussion of Mr. Banks's responsibilities to Jane and Michael is so important in the late phase of the film—he's trying to impress on them that Mr. Banks's work is important too.

    Mary's Name on Measurement 
  • How come Mary's "personality measurement" actually has her name in it?
    • She's Mary Poppins...why wouldn't it have her name?
      • Well, Jane is Jane Banks, but the measurement doesn't say, "Jane Banks— Rather inclined to giggle and doesn't put things away"; it simply says, "Rather inclined to giggle and doesn't put things away".
    • She's the only person who measures up to that exact specification because no one else is like her. She's her own unit of measurement!