Showing posts with label Disney. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Disney. Show all posts

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Movie Review: Tangled (2011)

Directed by Nathan Greno and Byron Howard. 2010.

I came kicking and screaming to the Wonderful World of Disney™. I had regarded Disney movies as fuzzy infantilizations of the traditional tales, but spurred by my wife and kids, movie-by-movie I was won over. All of a sudden I was the one sneaking the DVDs into the cart and declaring movie days to see the next feature.

Still by the time I sat down to watch Tangled I was still cocky enough—even after watching nearly all the landmark movies from Show White onward—to be certain I'd spotted a dud. How could it not be? It was CG, it was after the Disney Renaissance headed by The Little Mermaid and helmed by Ron Clements  & John Musker, and it was on the heels of the yet most brilliant, rich, and satisfying of them all: The Princess and the Frog. What could Tangled possibly be except the first step on the slippery slope of focus-group-tested CG crapola? It could, in fact, be perfect.

And it had me from the opening sequence, where we meet not the cliché of the youth pining away for a new life, but a flesh-and-blood girl, vigorously pushing against the limits of her small world in every way she can: reading every book, learning every skill, mastering every game, and perfecting every skill. Even up to covering the walls of her tower with a vibrant art that recreates the world beyond from the frustrated fragments she knows, half-remembers, and imagines, Rapunzel is a real girl yearning for the real world beyond her confines, and her opening solo, "When Will My Life Begin?" perfectly captures her predicament and eagerness.

Any young girl, and any parent, can see Rapunzel is ready for life and adventure and independence, that she has maxed out her stay at home and learned all she can there, but like the Disney heroines before her—Snow White, Cinderella, Ariel, Jasmine, Mulan, Tiana—she's taught and told to stay at home and accept her role and the life she's given. Taught by who is effectively her step-mother, we should add. Oh if only we parents, for all the kids movies we sit though, would more readily see ourselves as the villains we can be!

And Mother Gothel is quite the villain, a brilliant embellishment of the archetype of the devouring mother. She is no magic-wielding witch, though, just a centuries-old hag that kidnaps baby princess  Rapunzel so she can continue making exclusive use of a magic herb's youth-restoring powers, powers that were transferred to Rapunzel's hair when her mother consumed the herb to save her life.

Thus Gothel keeps Rapunzel safely tucked away in her tower, ignorant of her royal lineage. She also lets the princess' hair grow and grow without so much as a snip, for if it is cut its magic is lost. And so Mother Gothel's eternal youth comes at the cost of Rapunzel's eternal childhood and imprisonment. Not that Rapunzel is kept under lock-and-key per se. Mother Gothel keeps Rapunzel down, or up, by a rich variety of undermining, aspersions, and fear mongering that nurture the budding girl's need to be protected.

For example, by her golden tresses Rapunzel every day lifts dear mommy up the tower, for which filial devotion Mother Gothel first praises Rapunzel at length, only to follow with the complaint, couched in joke, that she takes too long. It's passive aggression so pitch-perfect it's painful to watch, and worse so because Rapunzel doesn't see it. Rapunzel just laughs because she has no idea of anything other than this vicious control. 

The most devious of Mother Gothel's cruel manipulations, however, is adding "I love you most" to Rapunzel's submissive devotional "I love you." The brilliant psychological insight of the exchange is that you can tell it's a little routine they do: Mother says I love you to prompt Rapunzel to say it, but after she says it Mother tops it. She's conditioning her daughter's submission and Rapunzel thinks the abuse is an affectionate routine. 

The routine is also a grand gesture from Mother Gothel, for in addition to playing mother, keeping 17-year-old Rapunzel dependent and wrapped up in maternal caretaking like a child, Gothel is playing God—the source of all good and the greatest love—to Rapunzel. And mothers are Godlike, but to infants, to whom mother is inconceivably large, omniscient, omnipotent, and the source of all things. To keep a growing child under this pretense of her mother is a terrible violence against her need to thrive, and Mother Gothel's sinister conceit bursts out in a brilliant show stopping solo, "Mother Knows Best," which has a savage irony worthy of Sondheim even if it sounds like Master of the House from Les Miserables.

And so Rapunzel waits, drawing her past and future on the walls of her tower: the suns that come to her in dreams and visions, and the lights that appear in the distant skies every year on her birthday. Little does she know the suns of her dreams are the blazon of Corona, whose people every year release lanterns to the sky to remember their lost princess on her birthday. They're the Call of the Unknown, and although they're not the end-in-themselves Rapunzel thinks, they're her dream and the path to her destiny. No wonder why Mother Gothel fears Rapunzel ever seeing what they truly are.

So while Mother Gothel denies Rapunzel's earnest, eager request to see the lights, mommy dearest offers to make Rapunzel's favorite food for her birthday instead. It's a cutting line for parents, for whom it's so tempting to steer kids towards familiar, safe things that are easy for us to manage, that make us feel good, or that we simply prefer, when what they need is adventure. 

It's been easy for Mother Gothel to keep Rapunzel under wraps with prevarication, though, until in frustration at Rapunzel's insistence she accidentally tells the truth that she'll never let Rapunzel go. Realizing her error, Mother Gothel follows with, "Great. Now I'm the bad guy." This is not only an ominous foreshadowing, but psychologically apt: casting herself as having been made the villain by Rapunzel's insistence is a challenge to Rapunzel to back down and assume guilt. 

But when Rapunzel realizes she's being led on and will never be allowed to leave, her guilt wilts and her pluck and wit take flight. She not only tricks Mother Gothel into leaving for a few days, but brokers a deal with the thief Flynn Ryder, who having just stolen the royal crown in a daring heist has wandered into Rapunzel's tower to take refuge. But if Flynn wants to get his loot back, he's going to need to take Rapunzel to see the lights. 

Rapunzel's sudden temerity is exhilarating and a little bit scary for us and her alike, and as the pair make their way through the woods Rapunzel is alternately giddy with her newfound liberty and racked with guilt at having deceived her mother. The scene is also a beautiful display of animation, with all of the variety of emotion that I love in Glenn Keane's characters. Maybe it doesn't come through as strongly in CG, but I know it when I see it.

Anyway Flynn is still hoping to get his riches and be on his way, so he sidetracks to a raucous pub in the hopes its surly felons will scare Rapunzel to give up and go home. So what follows is a heartfelt saloon-swinging paean to human flourishing and progress, right? Naturally! Packed with just enough zany gags and clever rhymes to keep it lighthearted, this is nonetheless a touching number in which the gaggle of unsightly goons of the bar confess their aspirations for a better, more beautiful life. The tune—not so far from She'll Be Comin' 'Round the Mountain—is so simple we feel invited to jump in too and join the motley family. When Rapunzel joins the chorus, though, she's taking her place on life's stage. She's learning she's not wrong to have dreams and to want to grow and see and be more. She's learning she's human, and her first introduction to this fact is not a group of people like her or the person she was taught to love, but people who at first blush seem pretty unlovable. 

The only person, in fact, who hasn't come 'round yet and who is pretty unlovable is Flynn, whose loveless dream of money and sandy beaches is so cold it draws the scorn of the femur-cracking ruffians of the Snuggly Duckling, who though they stick at no offenses are nonetheless joyful and vital. 

Beauty will soon tame the beast, though, and when Rapunzel reveals her powers to save and then heal Flynn—in a scene so tender and honest any romcom writer would be jealous—we find out some about the despondent orphan Eugene Fitzherbert, who as a desperate child picked the dashing persona Flynn Ryder out of character in a book. We see then two orphans but distinctly: starved Eugene blindly chose to be anything other than the lonely boy he was, but stifled Rapunzel never had a choice and was only what she was told to be.

Now they're both free to choose, though, and the footloose pair's furtive arrival in the kingdom quickly unleashes a torrent of emotion: the sight of Rapunzel twirling free with her tresses braided up garlands sets Eugene's sights on a liberating new dream, and the freedom to move sets Rapunzel's creativity ablaze. In a childlike effusion of creative joy the lost princess—home, though she doesn't yet know it—seizes the tune of the band and pulls the reluctant onlookers at the town center into a spontaneous circle dance. Round and round she pulls everyone skipping over the sun emblazoned on the stony floor as the rhythm leaps and bounds into a montage of a courtship more mature and real than that of any other Disney movie. 

It's an effusion of serious, sensuous romance as Eugene and Rapunzel dodge guards, exchange sweets, curl up with a book, and come so close to dancing together. Flynn's heart has passed from a friendly feeling toward a stranger, to a simple-but-genuine desire to bring about the good for her, to a love of her inner and outer beauty. And so the scene intensifies with abandon as the two grow closer and closer, growing freer as they fall in love. They leap higher and higher to the pounding rhythm and as the golden day blushes into dusk, the music reaches a feverish pitch of blaring brass and the two finally swing into each other's arms. 

It's worth adding, though, that Rapunzel's inner growth is not overtaken by romance: when she free-hands a blazing sun with a sprawling violet corona across the floor of the town center, her bare hands drenched in purple paint, she proudly wipes her brow and smiles to see her work exploded from the confines of her little tower. In maintaining this development alongside the romance, Tangled surpasses both the pure archetypal mold of the classic Disney movies, whose heroines (Snow White, Sleeping Beauty) are not characters at all, but types, and the Disney Renaissance heroines like Ariel and Belle, who are more differentiated but still not full dramatic characters. Only Meg and Tiana are so full-blooded as Rapunzel and all three are at once types (youths coming of age) and real, unique characters.

When the romance blooms, though, Disney fans might balk that the scene is a simple throwback to earlier movies. Yes, Rapunzel and Eugene's nighttime boat ride to see the lights is visually similar to Ariel and Eric's famous  "Kiss the Girl" scene in The Little Mermaid. And yes, it's musically similar to Aladdin and Jasmine's, "A Whole New World." But it's so much better than both for three reasons.

First, Rapunzel and Eugene know each other well at this point. Second, Rapunzel and Eugene have both completed their quest and the quest has brought them together. Third, they've also undergone their own personal changes of heart. Rapunzel has seen the lights, but found a new and better dream, and Eugene has seen his love for Rapunzel replace his rich and sandy retirement. In short, they're ready to fall in love without all the plot games and confusions we see when other characters who only partially know each other and themselves fall in love halfway through the movie and then limp along trying to figure it all out.

Best of all, though, is that Tangled builds on this clarity and gives us a genuine fourth act that doesn't merely prolong the sweethearts' nuptials but elevates and intertwines both the drama and the archetypal arch. 

When Mother Gothel reappears and dupes Eugene's old cronies into sending him up the river to get hanged for stealing the crown, she sets the stage for herself to play savior once more to Rapunzel, whom she summarily returns to the safety of her tower. Yet truth outs, and ultimately it is not the crown or the lights that triggers the denouement, but Eugene's love token—a handkerchief bearing the royal symbol of the sun—that sets the torrent of memories, the suns she's painted all her life, ablaze. And then the movie gets really dark.

Rapunzel steps out of her room, still in shock at the revelation, and mutters, "I'm the lost princess." Comfortable again in her old authority and thinking things have gone back to normal, Mother Gothel flexes her maternal muscles a bit and scolds Rapunzel for mumbling, just like old times. But Rapunzel has changed, and when she repeats herself she adds impertinently, "Did I stumble, mother?" I tell you in truth my jaw dropped when I first saw it. What a throw-down! It's such a bold move for Rapunzel, and any kid is going to see such declarative, scornful, disobedience as both thrilling and fraught with danger. 

But Tangled ratchets up that danger again when Mother Gothel goes to mollify Rapunzel's anger with a little maternal pat on the head and Rapunzel grabs her by the wrist. Then Mother Gothel, in foreshadowing of her vanity-driven fate, stumbles backward and breaks her mirror. Outraged at the thought of her now inevitable decrepitude, the gloves come off and Mother replies with darkest and most brilliant line from this or any Disney movie, "You want me to be the bad guy? Fine. Now I'm the bad guy." It's not so good because it portents danger, though, but because it's psychologically spot on.

Every parent wrestles with the growing tension of needing to nurture their children while setting limits on their behavior. It often feels like you have to choose between being kind and encouraging their independence. As they get older it feels like drawing a line is setting yourself up to be their villain. When they're teens and maintaining discipline risks the withdrawal of their kids' affection, parents are downright afraid. So when Mother Gothel says with such relish that she's ready to be the bad guy, we're genuinely scared. We feel for a moment, or we should, the danger of the child at the mercy of an adult whose passions, vices, fears, torments she can scarcely understand but who nonetheless holds virtually unlimited power over her. We don't know what the upper limit of Mother Gothel's pursuit of vanity is, if there is any at all.

We find out when Eugene, swiftly rescued in a light-hearted jailbreak perpetrated by the loyal ruffians of the Snuggly Duckling, shows up at Rapunzel's tower, is lured in, and is brutally shanked in the side by Mother Gothel. As if that's not graphic enough, Mother Gothel has Rapunzel gagged and chained in the tower. With the poor girl, who is now plainly Gothel's slave, struggling to get to her bleeding love, we feel the true stakes of Rapunzel and Eugene's story and of the archetype of coming into your own: life itself.

And with that the movie surpasses itself and twines together a perfect ending. Rapunzel willingly gives her life away, resigning herself to Gothel's servitude so she can save Eugene, who to his own death and to spare Rapunzel such a life, at last cuts free Rapunzel's golden locks with a shard of Gothel's mirror. And so the devouring mother by her own vanity shrivels up into her much overdue mortification and gasping at the sight of herself in the shattered mirror shrouds her desiccating, necrotizing face and stumbles shrieking out the window. It's graphic but as it should be, for there's something uniquely evil about an evil mother, that the one who protects and gives life ever should harm or take it. No one needs to learn that; it's in our bones and I tell you Mother Gothel's demise is the most satisfying and appropriate of all Disney villain deaths: what was day-by-day stolen from Rapunzel is suddenly and pitilessly paid back.

The finale is satisfying beyond justice, though, and I teared up myself a moment later when Rapunzel's tear brings Flynn back to life. It's so perfect because what devotion and life Mother Gothel had extracted from Rapunzel with lies and coercion, Rapunzel gives freely to Flynn who had given his love and sacrificed his life. What more is that this masterful finale of mutual sacrifice not only completes the love story and defeats the villain, but preserves to the very end and intertwines the independency of the characters' developments, for both Flynn and Rapunzel need to learn to love despite their loveless childhoods.

For the loner, that begins in trusting Rapunzel enough finally to drop the act of Flynn Ryder and to be Eugene Fitzherbert. He needs to have a faith in himself he's never had before and he needs to have a faith in Rapunzel he's never had in the world before. For the shut-in, learning to love begins in shunning what was formerly everything and everyone to her—a vain, manipulative mother—and having the faith to eschew that mother's familiar-but-shallow attention for Flynn's real, but incipient love. For both, love culminates in the embrace of sacrifice, the highest love, that leads to redemption.

Instead of succumbing to Mother Gothel's repeated attempts to drag her into cynicism, fear that Flynn will leave her and that she can only ever trust her mother, Rapunzel not only gives her love to Flynn but also sacrifices the new life that had just become possible rather than destroy him, and so is rewarded with that love and life back again. Moreover, for her virtue Rapunzel takes her place as princess, for although she always was a princess, technically, like Pinocchio and Hercules, she has to prove herself one by her virtue to truly be one. 

It's a parallelism and intertwining of character and archetype rarely equaled in adult dramas and matched in the Disney canon only by Hercules and The Princess in the Frog, but which are more powerful here because the story is simpler and the cast is smaller. In short, it's a masterpiece. An adult watching it comes out a bit younger, more on the side of youth, love, and freedom, and a child more trusting and spirited. You can't ask for more.

Friday, October 9, 2020

Ten Frames: Peter Pan (1953)

10+ frames from Peter Pan, with final comments ad libitum.

1. This is a great look for Peter Pan, a look which is unfortunately inconsistent and lost over the course of the movie. The partial illumination of his face makes him look like a bandit and his toothy, pointy grin gives him an air of devilish mischief. And I think there is something devilish and dangerous about a boy—especially an energetic, talented, temerarious boy—who won't grow up, and the danger that poses for others, however heedless he is of his immaturity.

2. This game of cat-and-mouse between Peter and his shadow is a marvelous illusion of two characters and I love the weighting of the shadow's tiptoeing. It also hints at the psychology of Peter's immaturity: he has to subdue and reattach to himself the part of him that has grown up and been taken by Wendy. 

3. Perhaps because she doesn't speak, Tink is drawn with the most expressive face in the movie. Her jealous, gleeful chuckle at the kids' failed first attempt to fly is a delight, as is her surprise bump on the tush when she gets up comeuppance by tipping over.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Movie Review: Peter Pan (1953)

Directed by Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson, and Hamilton Luske

After nearly 100 years, Disney movies have many reputations, most of them mostly wrong. I should know, as I harbored them until getting the opportunity to watch the classics with my own children. 

The first, that they're cheap knockoffs of classic literature and fairytale, is flat wrong. Books and stories were edited, generally sensibly, to make characters and arcs necessary for 70-80 minute animated films. That's perfectly fair, even if the movie turns out to be about something else and someone else entirely.

The second, that Disney movies always have tacked-on happy endings, is not generally true. Where an ending is glaringly different—like in The Little Mermaid—the new ending is suitable to the new character and essentially new story. It is at any rate more important that the ending is proper to the story and its characters.

There is in fact only one movie where the ending is plainly wrong for that reason, and that movie is 1953's Peter Pan. The mismatch of story and ending is all the more frustrating because the plot so perfectly paves the way for its proper ending and the film is animated with marvelous technical artistry.

That plot—that Wending Darling is whisked away to Neverland by Peter Pan, the boy who will never grow up, to play mother to Peter's Lost Boys—can be completed by one of two endings: Wendy decides she is ready to grow up and leave the nursery, as her father has promised she must, or she is not ready, and she begs her father to remain a child. Wendy's Neverland adventure is a playground in which she'll decide whether she's ready to grow up and the development is structured around three events in which she has the opportunity to be initiated into the tribes of Peter's eternal playground, or return home essentially grown up.

In the first, Peter brings Wendy to meet the mermaids of Neverland, among whom Wendy expects preferential, or at least equal or civil, treatment as Peter's special guest on the island. Peter, however, immediately forgets about Wendy and straightaway falls into his role of playing Big Man On Campus to the doting mermaids, who breathlessly hang on his every word as he repeats his oft-told tale of feeding Captain Hook's hand to the crocodile. When Wendy yoo-hoos for Peter's attention, the mermaids fly into a fit of jealousy and mercilessly tease poor Wendy with tugs and splashes until she lifts a conch to defend herself. Worse, Peter in response delegitimizes Wendy's outrage by telling her to calm down, even when the envious creatures admit they "were just trying to drown her."

Peter's forgetfulness and indifference is not senility or insanity, of course, but youthful impetuousness and the child's inability to recall and apply what is not in front of him. It's what most clearly characterizes Peter as a boy and what makes him a no-go as romantic interest and a just plan bad leader. 

We see this first when Peter exiles Tinker Bell on the spot and forever for trying to get Wendy shot out of the sky, even when we can plainly see Tink is jealous. Peter, though, doesn't read Tink's emotions and sees only her immediate transgression against Wendy. Yet a moment later he'll be ditching Wendy for the mermaids, and after that ditching the Mermaids to save Tiger Lily. Then he gets so caught up gloating over defeating Captain Hook that he nearly forgets about Tiger Lily, who is about to drown. When he finally flies Tiger Lily home, poor Wendy is is now totally forgotten and left to flap along behind.

The ensuing ceremony, in which the island natives make Peter an honorary member of the tribe for saving Princess Tiger Lily, is Wendy's second chance at being initiated into her place on the island.

In this, the set piece of the movie, the Lost Boys and even Wendy's little brothers join in a celebration of ecstatic dances and flailing fanfares. . . while Wendy is forced to gather firewood with the other women. When Wendy sees Peter rubbing noses with Tiger Lily, she's finally had enough of her second class status and throws down her firewood to go home.

Back at Peter's hideout, Hangman's Tree, Wendy sings a soft lullaby to the boys about the love and gentle beauty of mothers—whom they don't have in Neverland—so tenderly that they burst into tears and all agree, except Peter, to return to London with her. Even the pirates eavesdropping outside are moved to tears before they snag everyone, again except Peter, for whom they lay a trap.

At the Jolly Roger Wendy is tempted one last time to find her place in Neverland when Hook and his men promise a place for them on the Jolly Roger—and a free tattoo—by means of a funny and too brief shanty about the joys of working for Captain Hook. Wendy not only answers, and not only answers for all the boys, but is prepared to be the first to walk the plank to pay the penalty.

Alas, this is where the movie's trajectory begins to run awry. Wendy, who is prepared for independence, who has realized she has no place on Neverland, who has repeatedly been left behind by her flighty former infatuation, is ultimately rescued by her inconstant guardian. Worse still, she's rescued not only in-the-nick-of-time, but so nearly because Peter was busy rescuing someone else: Tinkerbell, who saved him from Hook's explosive trick and whom he calls "more important to me than anything in the world." To be rescued by Peter is what kind of ending for a girl on the cusp of adulthood?

Worse again, when Peter defeats Hook and flies Wendy back to her window, she tells her father that she's ready to leave the nursery, which feeling is totally incongruous with what has happened in Neverland. In a final frustrating moment, Mr. Darling sees the Jolly Roger sailing across the sky as a cloud and adds that he feels he's seen such before a long time ago, to which I add: so what? Isn't this movie about Wendy?

Certainly it would be welcome for Wendy's father to show the tragic aspect of growing up, in contrast to her newfound enthusiasm for it and Hook and Peter's denial of it, but it's a little late to shoehorn that in to the movie. That detail we would have welcomed in the opening act, not now.

The conclusion is such a frustrating ending, though, because the perfect ending is so obvious: Wendy takes charge of the Lost Boys and her brothers, commandeers the ship, and sails it and herself back to London without help, without pixie dust, and without Peter Pan, who again in childlike distraction forgets Wendy and flits off fighting Captain Hook once more. The two foes, locked in their perpetual struggle, illustrate the folly of fighting time. Back at home, Wendy tells her father, who is about to withdraw his threat that she must leave the nursery to grow up, that she is indeed ready to leave the nursery, and she does. 

Now that might not precisely be Barrie's ending to his play, but it feels like the ending for which this movie has prepared us. I would love to see it attached to this marvelous classic, instead of seeing the story slowly go off the rails in its finale. Every time I watch the end of Disney's Peter Pan I'm disappointed anew, because with its beautiful artwork and animation and clearly-delineated coming-of-age initiation scenes, it's otherwise quite compelling. 

It does have some technical issues too, though. It feels very choppy and the scenes don't flow into each other so well. Peter's impish, off-putting, somewhat threatening face—perfectly captured in the first shot of him—is gradually lost for a more boyish look. His arch foe, Hook, is inconsistent in his presentation: his voice is outright terrifying but he's constantly the subject of low-brow Flinstones-like gags that undermine him as a villain and don't fit with the tone of the movie.

And the tone is the best part of the movie and really its substance. It's built up through wondrous visuals like flights past Big Ben, cannonballs ripping through clouds, flirting with mermaids, hook-and-dagger duels, and marches through the jungle. The tone is that eager feeling, amidst all the fantasy and play, that you're ready for some real danger around the next corner, and you're kind of hoping to find it. 

Returning to the safety of the nursery is exactly opposite this, but the famous song which bookends Wendy's journey to and from Neverland would work with an appropriate ending as well, and perfectly so: what at the beginning referred to escapism and leaving fears of growing up now means, though the words are unchanged, using your new success and growth to leave your pretend world behind and take flight for the awfully big adventure that is life:

When there's a smile in your heart

There's no better time to start.

Think of all the joy you'll find,

when you leave the world behind

and bid your cares goodbye

you can fly, you can fly, you can fly!

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Movie Review: Mary Poppins

Directed by Robert Stevenson (1964)

The quintessential Disney classic, Mary Poppins is best remembered for its spectacle of dance, animation, and music, most loved for the inimitable prim cheekiness of Julie Andrews, and most praised for the ingenious special effects that blended its many parts together into a marvelous whole. It's not really thought of as an especially well-plotted movie or a movie fraught with meaning, but it is. 

There's a purpose to the splendid gaiety, to the jolly holidays that stretch out from walks in the park and to tea parties that bubble up to the ceiling, and it's all smartly set up with a carefully constructed opening as clear or clearer than that of any high-minded drama.

When Mrs. Banks upon entering her stately Edwardian residence conscripts her housekeeping staff into singing an anthem to female suffrage–Sister Suffragette, which few seem to realize is played as satire–and has to be forcefully reminded about the well-being and whereabouts of her children by her exasperated, quitting nanny, we get the gist.

When Mr. Banks, after unwittingly helping his children's recently former nanny into a cab, enters his regal domicile and does not inquire about his children but rather sings a haughty paean to patriarchal grandeur, we know him. And knowing the parents, we know the plight of little Jane and Michael Banks.

When their new nanny, Mary Poppins, enters from the sky via umbrella, primped and proper, neat as a pin, Jane and Michael know new things will be afoot with their pert and perky nanny. Who doesn't sense that change is in the air is Mr. Banks, whose hardheadedness is foreshadowed in his very first appearance when, walking past the house of his neighbor the retired Admiral Boom, who has a massive ship's rostrum affixed to the top of his house, Banks responds to the Admiral's meteorological warning that Banks might be steering into a bit of bad weather, with an oblivious smile. The proud banker knows that the British pound is the envy of the world but not much else.

So while Jane and Michael follow Mary Poppins' prescription of both fun and discipline, of learning to get your feet wet and to take your medicine, and when they sing and dance and smile past the breakfast table, Mr. Banks balks at the unseemly hullabaloo. He doesn't like the chipper staff and cheery kids and even the chirping birds, for they have disrupted his stern ordering of the household with their lightheartedness. His reaction is epitomized in my favorite moment in the movie wherein Banks, fuming to his wife about the disruptive house-wide uproar unleashed by the new nanny, blurts out in exasperated exclamation, "And when I sit down at a piano, I like to have it in tune!" and his wife replies, "But George, you don't play." Banks enjoys the peace of mind that his domestic order brings him and thus he enjoys his family insofar as they participate in and reflect that order, but the order is all for its own sake and not for the people who make it.

This theme of rejecting order for order's sake and work for work's sake is also the subtle subject of the film's famous fantasy scenes with Mary and the kids, in which everyone enjoys leisure and diversion with no purpose besides itself. We see it in the carousel-ride-turned-derby, in Mary and Bert's tea-and-cakes lunch served by penguins (a marvel of animation), and in the kids' visit to Mary's Uncle Albert, who is liberated from his earthly confines by irrepressible laughter. Each adventure lifts the spirits and imaginations of the kids, a fact which continues to elude Mr. Banks, who just can't see past the nose on his face to put down work for some play. 

Banks' obtuse preoccupation with work comes to a head at the bank when little Michael doesn't want to deposit his tuppence to fund railways in Africa, but wants to feed the birds in front of St. Paul's. Michael wants to do a simple thing, a kind thing, for its own sake, not make a practical investment in future profits, which frustrates his father, infuriates the board of directors, and precipitates the most unexpected bank run in history.

At this point in the movie, though, we're fairly wondering about the logic of Mary Poppins' plan to save Mr. Banks. After all, she has no reason to the think at any point that he's realizing the winds have changed, that his children are happy and growing, and that he has remained the same. She even has to trick him into taking the children to the bank with him, an outing she must know is going to be a fiasco. The reason for Mary Poppins' indirect method of saving Banks is that she knows his change must come from within and must come from his choice to embrace his children over his work. A stern talking-to and a serious discourse will not persuade him. He needs to see the choice before him, a choice that will need to be made once the incompatible elements—the kids and the bank—are brought together. 

With such purpose, Bert's scene with Mr. Banks, in which the chimney sweep more or less explains everything, is terribly out of place. First, we didn't need the first two hours of the movie if someone is just going to explain everything to the protagonist at the end. Second, we're not really sure whether Bert is getting through to Banks or Banks is coming to his senses or whether he's just confused. The scene is played rather cagily, on purpose I think, because they wanted to explain a little but didn't want to end the movie at this point. Third, why is Banks listening to the chimney sweep, whom he doesn't know and who doesn't know him? 

It's an unnecessary exchange too, because the scene would have played brilliantly as a monologue, in which Banks reminisces about his old life amidst its symbols: his pipes, his fireplace, and his chair. Then when the children come in as before with their tender, honest apologies—and return the tuppence—but this time break his heart, it would be clear that he is coming around and we would be prepared for movie's masterful finale, in which Banks makes a last journey to the job to which he has dedicated his life and from which he knows he will be fired. As he retraces his steps we read Banks' long-awaited self-examination through the film's music, the Feed the Birds tune. What song was once tender and nurturing from the lips of Mary Poppins is now melancholic as Banks passes through the park where his children have played not with him but with their countless nannies, and when at last he finally diverts course—a recollection of Admiral Boom's advice—and approaches the the steps of St. Paul's, Feed the Birds has become a mournful dirge. We are struck by the gravity of what will pass: his pride and former life and self-image, or his family.

Banks has not made up his mind quite yet, though, and his coming catharsis is not destined to be a tragic one. When he enters the bank and is summarily fired and stripped of his symbols of power—his hat, red carnation, and umbrella—he finally realizes the absurdity of his intense commitment to his job and responds to his humiliating sacking not with spirited self-defense or recrimination, but with Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious! The whimsical refutation shows that Banks has finally given up his forceful molding of the breed and let his children reform him. Banks is embracing his firing with joy over his newfound freedom, freedom with which he rededicates himself to his family. 

Finally returning home, he patches his children's long-broken kite with newspaper (a symbol of his former preoccupation, his work) and as a perfecting touch, his wife follows suit and adds to the kite a proper tail, her suffragette ribbon (a symbol of her former preoccupation, her political cause.) At last the mended family together dances off down Cherry Tree Lane arm-in-arm and the kite takes flight, a symbol of their restored unity. 

All of that to the tune of the Sherman Brothers' Let's Go Fly A Kite, the use of which song integrates the film's theme of laying down purposeful work for purposeless, even frivolous leisure, with what that reorienting ultimately brings about: the salvation of Mr. Banks and the restoration of his family. And what better phrase epitomizes frivolity than "Go fly a kite!" which in this marvelous, ebullient finale is raised from a slur of abuse to a jolly exhortation to lay down your labors, embrace your family, and celebrate life.