If one wishes to understand Walt Disney-or at least understand how Walt Disney perceived himself, one might take a close look at the lead character in one of Disney's most popular productions, Mary Poppins.
Mary, like Uncle Walt, appears to be most interested in family fun. She believes that nonsense, laughter, singing and make-believe are the best pursuits for the family searching for togetherness. Walt's film techniques were often described as Disney magic, and Mary is most certainly magical, able to animate toys to life, and most interestingly, she is able to make drawings come to life. These rectangular illustrations on the sidewalk are even laid out beside one another like film frames.
Many have wondered about the odd ending to Mary Poppins. In the last scene Mary watches from the front porch as the now reunited Banks family walks off happily together. Mary's melancholic departure is presented without an explanation as to why she must leave. Her outward sadness would suggest she might like to stay. The Banks family has not asked her to leave. But sadly, she goes, as if she had no choice in the matter.
Behind the scenes, Walt Disney had recently received bad news about his health, and it is likely that Walt was looking at Mary Poppins as possibly the last film he would ever make.
Returning to Mary's farewell on the front porch we remember another oddity-that being Mary's umbrella which is adorned with the head of a speaking animatronic parrot. After a few words with this parrot, Mary flies away. At home in California, Walt Disney owned a collection of animatronic parrots-and-strange as it may sound--Walt's wife remembers finding Walt speaking with them on several occasions.
Lastly, the street the Banks family walks down is from the same era, about 1910, that Main Street in Disneyland is based on -- and Main Street, Disneyland was based on Walt's hometown.
So in looking at Mary Poppins, we are, in fact, witnessing Walt's swansong, and in the last scene he is telling us how he wants to be remembered. While Walt, like Mary, is sad to be leaving and can do nothing to stop it, he (or she) watches the happy family stroll on down the avenue, a family on a mini vacation, headed for a day at the park. The street they walk down in the land of Disney may be understood as Main Street USA, and the family is any of us who could use a little of Walt's (or Mary's) magic to help bring a family together and share a day in the Wonderful World of Walt Disney.
Walt Disney: Hollywood's Dark Prince by Marc Eliot. Birch Lane Press, 1993.
Copyright 2002 © Kevin Shortsleeve
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Monday, 16-Dec-2002 00:44:44 EST