Friday, August 27, 2010

Day 141: Let’s go fly a kite

There’s something unusual about Mary Poppins, aside from the fact that she can fly through the skies holding onto an umbrella and can leap into street pavement paintings where other worlds exist and talk talk to animals. No, what’s unusual about Mary Poppins, is that the she is not the protagonist of her own film.

On ninety-nine out of one hundred occasions, it’s a dead give away that the title of the film is the name of the protagonist - Hamlet, Michael Clayton, Spartacus, Erin Brockovich - the person in the story who undergoes the greatest change of character (at a deep level), but. However, this is not the case at number seventeen Cherry Tree Lane.

At the start of the perennially favourite Disney movie, the nanny of the Banks‘ household - Katie Nanna - is leaving, having had enough of her charges, the children Jane and Michael Banks. Infuriated by this irritating interruption to his busy life in the City, it falls to the head of the household, George Banks (David Tomlinson), to place an advertisement in The Times and recruit a new, strict and authoritarian replacement. Jane and Michael are not as obedient as he would like them to be; the straw that broke the camel’s back for Katie Nanna, was that they’d ran off for the umpteenth time, chasing a broken kite which he, their father, couldn’t spare the time to fix.

But Mr.Banks’s advertisement is usurped by a request that his children ‘put out to the universe‘ and instead of a gruff and fearsome governess, they get the “practically perfect in every way” Mary Poppins (Julie Andrews), who brings magic, fun, love and joy to the entire household.

Now, by film’s end, which of the characters in this film have changed? Mary Poppins hasn’t changed; the kind and gentle nanny that comes down from the skies in the first place is exactly the same when she goes back up to them at the end. Bert the chimney sweep (Dick Van Dyke) Mary’s friend and confidante carries on with his many trades at the end as he does in the beginning. Winifred Banks (Glynis Johns), mother of Jane and Michael and wife to George is not really different from start to finish, but, as is the case with her children, her/their circumstances do change in that the lynchpin of the family - Mr Banks- does alter, dramatically so. George Banks goes through a great character transformation from “disconnected family autocrat to fully engaged family man.” (the late David Tomlinson [Bedknobs and Broomsticks, The Love Bug - Herbie], is by the way, pitch perfect in his playing of this role).

The kite that “Banks” didn’t have time to fix at the beginning of the story, is the centre of activity in the final scene, after he has mended it and takes his family to the park to fly it, not giving a fig about the fact that he’s been fired from his job at Dawes Tomes Mousley Grubbs Fidelity Fiduciary Bank. The Banks family, and in particular Mr Banks, are forever changed, happily so, due to the arrival and interruption in their lives by Mary Poppins.

Day #141 Tip: Creating an unusual hero
Mary Poppins is what screenwriting consultant Linda Aronson refers to as a “charismatic antagonist”, a “good guy” who is an opposing force and thorn in the side of the protagonist, in other words, a an antagonist character type but not the traditional sort that wishes and inflicts ill and awfulness upon the protagonist. An agent of change, yes, but a positive and benevolent agent of change.

It’s not hard to pick: though George Banks is the protagonist of this story, we don’t spend the majority of our time with him, seeing the world from his point-of-view. For most of the film’s activity and adventures we are in the company of Jane, Michael, Bert and the ringmaster-with-the-umbrella, Mary Poppins.

The protagonist in this type of story goes against the grain of much that is traditional storytelling in that: it’s not his or her POV that we see (it’s the kids’ mostly) it’s not his head we’re inside, the protagonist in this case doesn’t drive the action (that’s Mary), yet the protagonist is central to the film’s dramatic high points (Mary only leads everyone into enjoyable distractions/ “jolly ‘olidays”), and he is the character who changes most, the one who changes and learns or matures or is educated or redeemed as a result of the action. For more on this I must refer you to Linda Aronson’s Scriptwriting Updated (New and Conventional Ways of Writing for the Screen[AFTRS/Allen & Unwin]).

Until the next time, however, like Bert said to Mary Poppins, I must ask that you “not stay away too long”.

No comments:

Post a Comment