NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

February 13, 2014

Popping in on Poppins

'A Spoonful of Sugar' celebrates Disney movie

By Will Broaddus
Staff writer

---- — There is a scene in “Mary Poppins,” the Disney movie starring Julie Andrews, where several characters jump inside a picture.

Bert, the chimney sweep played by Dick Van Dyke, has drawn an image of the English countryside with chalk on a sidewalk. With magical assistance from Mary Poppins, he and the Banks children — Jane and Michael — are able to leap into the world he has imagined.

Visitors can now repeat this experience at “A Spoonful of Sugar,” a new exhibit at the Wenham Museum that celebrates the movie’s 50th anniversary.

“We’ve chosen some of the iconic scenes from that movie and re-created them,” said Jane Bowers, exhibitions curator.

Visitors are invited to enter three scenes at the exhibit as if they were walking into the movie; a fourth scene will remain out of bounds.

“‘A Spoonful of Sugar’ is one of the first songs that is sung by Julie Andrews, while she is helping clean up the nursery, so we’re creating the Banks children’s nursery,” Bowers said. “It is toys from our own collection and furnishings roughly of the right period. That’s the hands-off part of the gallery.”

A second, interactive version of the nursery has more contemporary toys but is equally messy and invites children to clean it up.

“When Poppins arrives, it is a complete mess, the toys are scattered, and she sings the song to help the children clean up,” Bowers said. “We’ve designed it so they can make as much of a mess as they want to.

“But, like Mary Poppins would want them to, they are encouraged to clean it up. You can take a chore and turn it into something fun to do — that’s the lesson Mary Poppins is trying to teach in ‘Spoonful of Sugar.’”

Another scene features the home of Admiral Boom, one of the Banks family’s neighbors on Cherry Tree Lane.

“Admiral Boom believes he is on a ship, and he keeps time for the neighborhood by setting off a cannon,” Bowers said.

There are several points in the movie where family members and their servants have to stop what they’re doing and grab fragile objects to keep them from being knocked to the floor by the cannon’s blast.

The exhibit re-creates the admiral’s ship-shaped house with a platform children can climb onto using a rope ladder and where they can play with a cannon.

The third scene in the exhibit re-creates the sidewalk where Bert made his chalk drawings.

“We’ve created a mural, because Bert is doing his chalk drawings in front of Regent’s Park, and the mural makes it look like you’re in front of a park,” Bowers said. “Kids can make their own drawings on the street, and they can tear it off and take it home.”

The movie was based on a series of novels by P.L. Travers, the first of which was set in the 1930s and published in 1934, but Walt Disney set his film in 1910.

“I haven’t found any explanation as to why Walt Disney decided to change the time period,” Bowers said. “There is a theory that he wanted to give American audiences a reason why a family would need a nanny, if the mother doesn’t have a job outside the home.”

Setting the film in 1910 allowed him to make Mrs. Banks part of the suffragette movement, which was fighting for women’s voting rights at that time — and which would have kept her from spending more time with her children.

Disney approached Travers many times about using the Mary Poppins character in a film, but she resisted him for years. That struggle is depicted in the recent movie “Saving Mr. Banks,” starring Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks.

“She didn’t envision it as a musical, but she did like some of the music,” Bowers said.

An edited version of the movie will play continuously in the gallery “to help remind people what the movie is all about,” Bowers said. “It features the iconic songs and scenes featured in our exhibition.”

The exhibit also recalls the final scene of the film, when the Banks family goes to the park to fly kites, after Mary Poppins has helped bring them closer together.

“There are decorative elements to give you the sense of being outside,” Bowers said. “As in ‘Let’s Go Fly a Kite,’ there are decorative elements floating around the ceiling, to remind people this is supposed to be fun.”

IF YOU GO

What: “A Spoonful of Sugar,” celebrating the 50th anniversary of Walt Disney’s “Mary Poppins”

When: Through May 11. Open Tuesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Special event, “A Sunday of Sweetness,” will be held March 23 from 1 to 3 p.m., featuring an actress portraying Mary Poppins.

Where: Wenham Museum, 132 Main St.

Cost: $8 for adults, $6 for youths ages 1 to 18

More information: 978-468-2377 or www.wenhammuseum.org