Spoonful of Psychopathy

My disdain for reboots means that, out of the gate I’m not inclined to have much anticipation for Mary Poppins Returns. Factor in that it’s a musical fantasy for and about children, and there is even less to attract me. It’s just not my cup of tea, Earl Grey (hot) or otherwise.

I have a sister, younger by a few years, so the original Mary Poppins, with Julie Andrews, was an annual fixture in our house. Along with The Wizard of Oz and that excruciating Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer claymation. I was already a hard-core science fiction fan by then; these family-friendly fantasies bored me silly even as a kid.

I think even then I was just too aware of the implicit psychopathy behind it all.

So I cracked up when I happened to read Jessica Mason’s article, We Need to Admit That Mary Poppins Is a Sociopath, in The Mary Sue. The author is by no means the first to point out that Mary Poppins is “a manipulative, lying, gaslighting jerk,” but she may be one of the more entertaining and thorough.

For example, she points out that the actual hero of the piece is Bert, the chimney sweep (Dick Van Dyke as the most unconvincing Cockney ever). Mary herself isn’t someone any adult would want around themselves, let alone their children.

Mason also suggests it was Julie Andrews amazing ability to sell the sweet nanny character that prevents us from fully recognizing what an awful “person” Mary Poppins actually is. Certainly the role became iconic for the actress. (She had as much success shedding it as Leonard Nimoy did Spock.)

On the plus side, Andrews’ singing and the sheer exuberance of the film are the heart, the charm, and the reason it delights so many. If you don’t think about the plot too much, the movie is just plain fun.

A problem for the reboot may be that Emily Blunt doesn’t have that Andrews charm power. As Mason writes:

“The problem with Mary Poppins Returns as a movie is that it attempts to ape the original in all the wrong ways, while adding some of the worst Disney tropes. (A dead mother! A useless love story! A powerful man saves everyone!) It’s nearly a beat-by-beat retread of the 1964 film’s structure, down to a disaster at a bank followed by a dance number from charming working fellows of a bygone era.

“Mary Poppins herself is still haughty and almost cruel, but this time, instead of Julie Andrews’ soprano charms elevating her to a mischievous diva, we’re left with Blunt singing alto, trying to bring life to a character who might not even be human and has no clear personality beyond her own smug practical perfection.”

(It seems almost self-evident that, issues of character psychopathy aside, Julie Andrews is a power-house singer, which fact it seems a reboot ought to hold foremost in its mind.)

Given that I never cared for the original, I can’t see any reason to bother with a reboot, especially when it’s pretty clearly a money-grab, not a labor of love.

There is also that the original is stained by the rift between Walt Disney and P.L. Travers, who wrote the Mary Poppins book series. This is touched on in the film Saving Mr. Banks, with Emma Thompson as Travers (and Tom Hanks as Walt Disney).

Bottom line, charm and singing aside, I’ve never been onboard with the original Mary Poppins movie, and I can’t imagine any reason to watch the reboot (which likely lacks both the singing and the charm).

OTOH, this is almost entirely a subjective opinion. Objectively speaking, I’m pretty neutral on both the original and the reboot (albeit with a dash of disdain for any reboot).

I do think it’s fun that I’m not the only one who sees the psychopathy, though. Here’s an Honest Trailer take on the original from Screen Junkies:

And here’s the Cinema Sins take on it (the sin total is under 100, which I believe means they either liked it or didn’t hate it):

I have long wondered how much modern film-making, with its incredibly high level of realism, changes the storytelling equation, but that’s a post for another day.

For now, I just got a big kick out of Jessica Mason’s article and thought I’d share it along with the related video bits. It kinda fits in with the Women in 2018 theme I’m following these last few posts.

(Once again, it’s weird how when I write something I think is going to get a lot of flack,… those turn out to be the most ignored posts of all.)

I’ll leave you with a last bit of fun, a terror trailer for Mary Poppins:

These can be a lot of fun. There’s a YouTube channel that does a lot of them (Cinefix, I think). Way back in 2012, I posted about another gem I found quite some time ago, a terror trailer version of 2001.

Stay poppin’, my friends!

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

14 responses to “Spoonful of Psychopathy

  • SelfAwarePatterns

    I share your disdain for reboots. There have been successful ones, but most are cheap attempts to leech off the popularity of the original, usually while missing a lot of what made the original stick in our cultural memory.

    I actually loved the Rudolf show when I was a kid, along with most of the other Christmas claymation specials. But then, I never attempted to view them as anything other than frivolous entertainment. That said, I haven’t seen any of them in decades. I suspect they wouldn’t hold up well if I watched today.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      I think you would find Rudolph does not translate well across the decades. 🙂

      It’s part being an adult combined with, a possibly bigger part, that our cultural view is so different now (for better and worse). On a personal level, I’ve never taken to puppet shows of any kind, and I think it might be related to having been born with a severe hearing defect. I’m not a trained lip-reader, but have certainly learned a fair bit of it over my sixty some years, and you can’t read puppet lips. I definitely “hear” better when I can see a person’s lips.

      I sat here trying to think of what reboots agreed with me. I’ve been doing okay (just okay) with the Will & Grace reboot. It’s fun to see those actors do their thing again. And then there’s,… the movie Bewitched is about the only thing I can think of. (The first Addams Family wasn’t too bad.)

      I dunno… my whole ethic with storytelling is “take me someplace new!” I don’t have much of a nostalgia gene, and I’ve never understood how avid people are about retreading old ground. I know people who would rather watch a repeat of some old show they’ve seen a dozen times than something new. I just don’t get that.

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        I’m reminded of that old saying: the golden age of science fiction is twelve. A lot of people seek out wonder and novelty when they’re young, but as they get older they increasingly seek out things that remind them of their youth. Which is probably why reboots are a thing, and why Star Trek has remained mired in its own past for the last couple of decades.

        What’s interesting about this, at least to me, is that nostalgia almost never delivers on bringing back that old feeling of wonder. As you note, that requires going somewhere new. But doing that means being open again to things that are different.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Ha. I guess, in some ways, I’m still twelve. 😀

        I turned twelve while TOS was airing originally; I was already a hard-core SF fan by then. I think I may have been eight or so when I first discovered Asimov’s Lucky Starr books and Heinlein. I know I’ve been reading SF as long as I’ve been picking my own reading material. (My parents instilled a love of books and reading.)

        Yet, as we’ve talked about, around the 50th anniversary I decided I was completely done with Trek. It had been falling off my radar for years, and I never got on board with J.J. Abrams. (In fact, I’ve been vocal about how much I despise everything he stands for. 😀 ) And what CBS has done with the franchise sounds dreadful to me.

        As much as I hold TNG as the best of class, as much as I did love that series, the last thing I want to see is Patrick Stewart re-creating that very 1990s character. It’s the most boring idea I can imagine for Trek. The way fans are going bananas over it (and who else might appear) just bemuses me.

        There is a quality, called openness to experience, that I apparently have in very high measure. (Along with the quality of being bored by the same ol’ same ol’.) It’s a pretty good predictor of where one falls on the liberal-conservative axis.

        A question I’ve pondered is whether my openness comes from an early diet of SF or whether I was drawn to SF in the first place because of a natural trait. Nature-nurture, the old question. There is a belief reading fiction makes a more rounded person. I’ve always thought that was especially true of those reading SF.

        (The reading theory applies less to popular entertainment, I think, be it fiction, SF, or music. Let’s not say good-bad, but challenging-easy.)

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        It’s funny. I was born the month that Star Trek:TOS started (September 1966). Someone on Twitter a while back asked people to reveal their age in a creative way, and that was mine. I’m 11 days younger than Star Trek 🙂

        I grew up watching TOS as reruns in the afternoon after school. I remember when it first came on. Spock was a very familiar figure to me, although I couldn’t remember from where. My dad watched the originals with me doing baby and toddler stuff around the living room. Star Trek is in my earliest memories.

        I’ve heard of the open to experiences attribute as a indicator of liberal leanings. What I find puzzling is that I’m often not personally that open to many new experiences, yet I’m pretty liberal politically. On the other hand, my cousin is someone who often seeks out new experiences, and he’s fairly conservative. It makes me wonder if the real divide isn’t more about what type of experiences each camp is open to. (Or maybe I’m just a freak.)

      • Wyrd Smythe

        So you’re a Star Trek baby! Cool! 🙂

        “It makes me wonder if the real divide isn’t more about what type of experiences each camp is open to.”

        No doubt that and many other factors. Predictors and trends are rough fits to messy real-world data. And sometimes the trend is, like 55% or something, so it takes a large sample to really even see it. [shrug]

        The openness axis does seem to make some sense. Another axis I heard about was the “disgust” axis, and supposedly those with a high level of innate disgust trend conservative.

        It must get interesting if one has conflicting trends. Very open, but easily disgusted?

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        It seems like disgust and openness could be the same dimension in different directions. As your disgust is higher, your aversion to new experiences increases, and vice versa.

        I’ve always been a bit skeptical that this is determinative of political attitudes though. I know some liberals who get just as disgusted by steak as conservatives who get disgusted by escargot.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        “It seems like disgust and openness could be the same dimension in different directions.”

        Could be, although (no surprise?) I can see them as distinct. To the extent one can avoid disgusting situations, one might be open to new experiences. Or think about conservative country folks who deal with animals and hunting on a daily basis.

        (For that matter, as I mentioned, I’m pretty high on the openness scale, but the main reason I don’t go deer hunting with my buddy (who really wishes I would) is that dressing a deer is revolting! And I don’t like venison all that much. Took me a while to get used to handling leeches bare-handed!)

        “I’ve always been a bit skeptical that this is determinative of political attitudes though.”

        Yeah, like I said, probably broad general trends, at best.

        (Did you mean “determinative” in the literal “determines” sense or the general “indicates”/”correlates” sense? I totally agree it doesn’t determine anything. Correlation wouldn’t surprise me, though. They both make some sense to me and more or less reflect what I’ve experienced in others. Plenty of exceptions, though!)

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        “Did you mean “determinative” in the literal “determines” sense or the general “indicates”/”correlates” sense?”

        I think I meant in the latter sense, although my use of “determinative” was not very determinative 🙂

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Yeah, that’s what I figured. 🙂

        (I was about to debate how I didn’t think it actually determined anything when I realized the phrase has two meanings.)

  • AthenaC

    I actually feel like I’ve had good luck with reboots! I enjoyed the Star Trek ones, and I liked Beauty and the Beast (not 100% of it, but in some ways an improvement over the original).

    But I never liked Mary Poppins. I read the book, and thought to myself – what an awful person! She wasn’t even nice. She was just rude and snobby to everyone. Knowing that just sort of soured any appreciation I might have had for the movie. So I’ll probably never get around to seeing this onw.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Mary Poppins is even bad in the books, eh? Maybe we shouldn’t blame Walt Disney for that, then. Almost makes you wonder why she became so popular. (Or was she even popular before the movie? I’m not sure I ever heard of the books.)

      Are you an old Star Trek fan that’s still with the franchise, or are you a newer fan of it all? Part of what’s happened to me is that 50 years of Trek turns out to be a lifetime amount for me. I just got tired of it. (I’ve been there since the beginning.)

      Didn’t see Beauty. Live action, right? Was that jarring in any way? (Are you a big fan of the original?)

      • AthenaC

        I first ran into Star Trek: TNG when I was about 9. Then my dad introduced me to the originals, and of course I saw all the movies with the original cast. I watched Deep Space Nine and Voyager when I was in high school, and to this day my favorite series is DS9.

        What I really enjoyed about the reboots is the way they captured the core of the old characters in different situations and updated acting techniques. For example, Chris Pine does a great job being the gutsy, impulsive Captain Kirk without the William Shatner delivery style which was very typical of 60’s TV (from what I’ve seen, anyway). McCoy was also very well-crafted. Plus they threw in some phrases that all us original fans would recognize (i.e. pointy-eared Vulcan).

        The animated Beauty and the Beast came out when I was 9, so of course I loved it. (Side note: My husband and I agree that whichever Disney movie came out when you were 9 seems to be the one you think is the “best.” For him the best movie is Hercules. Anyway.) Emma Watson had the perfect look for Belle, but apparently ears more sensitive than mine could tell she was autotuned. I thought Gaston was great – awesome voice for all the great big Gaston songs. There were some things I didn’t like, but probably the biggest thing I liked was the additional background into the Beast’s character.

        Anyway, I could write for ages dissecting what I liked / didn’t like and why.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Heh, yeah, me, too! The Star Trek tag is my 16th most used here. (OTOH, the Minnesota Twins tag comes in 13th. 😀 )

        You’re a little like Mike (above, SelfAwarePatterns) in growing up with Trek and in having a dad as a gateway. It certainly wasn’t that way with me. I was in HS during TOS, and my concerned dad sent me and my sister out of the room during the salt monster parts of the very first episode aired (The Man Trap). My parents never got SF. Or me.

        What you say about Disney movies is, I think, true in general, and we both prove the point. For you, DS9 is the most beloved. For me, it’s TOS, and while I objectively see TNG as a vastly superior show, it’s TOS that’s first in my heart, and those old episodes are the ones I most cherish.

        You also demonstrate a point I’ll be introducing in my next post that, for any aspect one group of fans hates, some other group of fans loves. The very things you loved about the Trek reboot movies are the very things that drove me crazy. I utterly loathed Pine’s Kirk.

        And I know we both have great reasons for those views. Both of which are absolutely correct!

        I thought about it for a while, and I don’t really have a favorite Disney movie! I didn’t see the live-action Beauty, so I was curious what someone who saw it and liked it thought, so thanks. (Most of the reviews seemed to throw shade at it.)

        Nothing against Disney, mind you. I loved Disneyland when I lived in L.A., and I’ve really enjoyed my visits to Walt Disney World. Just that the movies were never really aligned with my taste axis.

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