Monday, July 29, 2013

Mary Poppins: Nothing and No One is Safe

You know what bothers me a lot?  Revision.  And I'm not talking the I-wrote-this-and-found-some-errors-so-I-fixed-them revision.  I'm talking about changing history or purposely bending it to suit the current needs.  Think Holocaust deniers.  Now, while Holocaust deniers are certainly the biggest blackguards on the block when it comes to revision, this doesn't mean that smaller revisions don't count or won't bother people.

Now we come to it.

Like basically every American kid of a certain age, I grew up watching Mary Poppins.  Basically irresistible to children because of its bright and bubbly music, images, and ultimately happy themes (albeit tinged with a hint of dark clouds), Mary Poppins was a classic when it came out and it is still beloved by many.  I mean, who didn't want a nanny who could pull an entire lamp out of her purse and have tea on the ceiling and jump into a painting?  I certainly did.  The darker elements put me off Mary a bit and so it was never one of my all-time favorites, but I sure did enjoy it.

So, being the children's literature buff I am, I notice after a while that not only was Mary Poppins based on a book, but on a whole series of books!  I love reading kids books, so I promised myself I would pick them up, someday.  In my head, I imagined them being akin to Pippi Longstocking, a book series I absolutely adore.  Both characters, so I thought, were quirky and lovable, and when I picked up Poppins, I was excited.  I was thinking Julie Andrews and one-man bands and ingratiating chimney sweeps.

What I got was much different.  If you haven't read the books, I'll try not to spoil them too much for you.  But the biggest difference is Mary herself.  While in the movie she's a bit terse, it never seems cruel or unloving.  You get the sense that she does care about these children, even when she's gruff.  And she smiles occasionally.  The genial singing helps, too.  In the books, Mary is downright curmudgeonly.  She is curt, rude, and no-nonsense.  The children simply adore her, but it seems a bit more like Stockholm syndrome than anything, with the way she treats them.  She berates them, they compete over who gets to hold her umbrella.  I found it unpleasant and bizarre.  She certainly was no Julie Andrews, and I wondered how the two could possibly be related.

Then, after some poking on Wikipedia, the truth came out (as truthful as truth can be from Wikipedia).  P. L. Travers did not want to sell the rights to Mary Poppins, did not like Walt Disney or the Sherman brothers, argued constantly with them about the film, and was displeased with the final result.  Although some things you can see remain true from the book, it's clear that Disney and Co. ran roughshod over her wishes.  Mary Poppins became much more saccharin and upbeat, and her original story began to dwindle more and more.  It was so bad that upon seeing the final product, Travers vowed to never let Mary be translated from the page again, into film, play, or musical.  Eventually, she did renege on that vow, allowing Mary Poppins to become a Broadway musical, but she forbade anyone but British people from working on it and specifically disallowed the involvement of the Sherman brothers, who were apparently still writing.  I have to admit, too, that this is a personal pet peeve of mine: artistic integrity.  I understand that for film adaptations, sometimes things must be changed, but I also feel it's important to keep it consist with the wishes of the artist and of the general underlying theme.  Disney butchered both of those for Mary Poppins.

Essentially, the whole process was a mockery of a sham.  A shamockery.  But the question is, who cares?  It was a long time ago and it's all over with, right?  Right?

Not anymore.  Disney -- the ultimate business conglomerate -- is at it again.  It wasn't enough to undermine P. L. Travers's original works and ideas.  It wasn't enough to make her so appalled and angry that she resolved never to allow her work to be messed with again, by anyone other than her.  It wasn't enough to blatantly ignore her input on many occasions.  Now, they are making a movie about the movie-making process.

In case you haven't seen the trailer, here's a link:

Starring Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson (who doesn't love them?), the trailer makes it seem like there were plenty of creative differences, but Walt Disney being the fabulous, wonderful, considerate, magical man he supposedly was resolves all their differences, placates P. L. Travers, and makes something she can be proud of.

What now?

P. L. Travers hated the movie and hated Disney for making it.  How on Earth does that fit in with this feel-good, up-tempo, sparkly movie they're putting out?  Doesn't that kind of ruin the perkiness of the film?  But how can they ignore that?  It would be a blatant revision of history.  To end the film saying that P. L. Travers was anything less than mightily pissed off would be a lie.  A LIE.  Is Disney so comfortable with bending truths and lying that they'll do it AGAIN to this woman?  They don't have the common decency to stop with her works of fiction but instead will do it to her LIFE to garner a profit and rekindle the magic of "Disney classics"?

Frankly, this is getting to be the last straw.  I was okay when Disney sugar-coated and warped the Pocahontas story.  I was okay when the only character in Aladdin who looks Arab is the bad guy.  I was okay with the butchering of Alice in Wonderland plus catchy songs.  I was okay with Dumbo's band of Jim Crows and roustabouts.  I was okay with the Asian stereotypes of the Siamese cats in Lady and the Tramp.

That is, I was okay with it until I realized what it was.  Disney likes to do what it wants.  It's big enough and powerful enough that it can basically get away with it.  It will warp and twist and steamroll anyone and anything to do what it wants and make a buck.  Don't even get me started on the Disney vault.  That really is shameless.  Do I still watch Pocahontas?  Yes.  In fact, just last night I was rather musically reminding my husband that I knew the lyrics to every song in Pocahontas.  Will I see Saving Mr. Banks?  Probably.  At this point just because I'm dying of curiosity as to how it will end.

Will it be the right thing to do?  In basically every sense of the question, no, it probably will not.

And I am ashamed of myself for it.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Ants in My Pants

I have returned, fresh-faced, from "vacation" to Phoenix.

First of all, how sad that my big traveling of the summer was to Phoenix.  Yuck, what a heinous city.  The drivers are mean and inconsiderate (but at least they know how to go over 25 mph).  The weather was insufferable -- either scaldingly hot and dry or five degrees cooler and disgustingly humid.  And everything is so far away.  The closest coffee shop in walking distance was shudder Starbucks.  But, we're still getting on our feet as a tiny family.  So, we were buying camping equipment instead of going somewhere exotic, but at least we got out of town for a bit.

One niceish thing about this vacation was that I kind of went back to work.  I've mentioned before on this blog, but I'm the kind of person who really likes to keep busy.  If I'm not running around like a chicken without a head, I'm not really happy.  In Phoenix, I had a four-day training session for the section of Advanced Placement United States' history I'm going to be teaching this next year.  While most of the training was comprised of our teacher making us pretend to be the students and doing worksheets and mini-courtrooms and stuff (hello, isn't that why I went to high school? And college?), it gave me a realistic idea of how much work this class is going to be and how much planning I need to be doing in the two and half weeks before school starts.

I'll use one of my favorite phrases to describe: a butt ton.

So now I have ants in my pants.  I'm itching to get started.  Problem though: still haven't chosen my last book.  Suggestions?  Right now I'm trying to decide if Beowulf is really a good idea or not.

Fortunately, I have three new textbooks I can use as reference, I'm hopefully going to start a website, and my school is open for teachers who want to come in and work quietly.  What I need now is to purchase myself some new posters and start putting my classroom together.  Rawr.

The other nice thing about going to Phoenix was getting to spend time with family and friends.  Because we were there for something like a week, I got to spend a day helping my mom clean out my old room a bit.  That was eye-opening.  You inherently understand that when you start putting two lives together you realize just how much (or how little) crap you have.  Well, I left behind a bunch of my crap and had effectively blocked it from my mind.  Returning home and rounding up at least a third of what was hanging behind was a bit mind-bogling.  I mean, it was a third of what was there.  And it was a terrifically large amount of just. . .stuff.  Now, granted, a significant portion of that was for my classroom (Jane Austen figurine, anyone?) and will be out of my house soon, but golly gee if I don't go on a cleaning spree pretty soon here I'm going to feel a bit like I'm drowning in stuff.

However, I'm blogging right now because I'm putting off further cleaning.  Hmmm.

My watermelon plants survived.  Hooray!

I accidentally left the freezer cracked while we were gone so now our freezer looks like the ice man's lair (read: full of bizarrely-shaped icicles, because that's obviously what an ice man's lair looks like).

I still have way too many books but can't seem to shake a bunch of them.

Okay, this song's over, I have to man up and go clean.  Wish me luck.