Mary Poppins is one of the most beloved Disney films of the age, still being repeated on television and loved by audiences old and young. You could say it is practically perfect in every way. And with a sequel released, it’s the perfect time for a blog about the mentoring that takes place during the film.
So where should we start? Why not with the main characters?
The first of our mains are the Banks parents. Mrs Banks is a passionate member of the Suffragette movement with a rosy but dreamy personality. Mr Banks is a quite important member of the Bank of England. He is a man with no vision beyond the end of his nose, meaning he only sees and hears what he wants to, leading him to care little about everything else.
The children, Jane and Michael, are in fact not naughty like most nanny stories, but merely unhappy and want some attention from their parents, who are more focused on themselves. This has caused them to become problematic and leave a long trail of nannies who have quit.
Mary Poppins and Bert are the complete opposite of Mr and Mrs Banks. They focus wholeheartedly on the children. They aren’t strict or get angry, often having smiles on their faces and joining in with the activities. She and Bert act more like Jane and Michael’s parents than Mr and Mrs Banks.
The Lessons of Mentoring
Here we will go into the lessons Mary Poppins teaches us and how they are similar and apply to mentoring in the current day.
As I said above, Jane and Michael want their parents’s attentions but are failing to get it. They are constantly being rebuffed by an emotionless father and campaigning mother. This draws stark parallels to modern day parenting. Many parents are forced to work full time jobs to make ends meet, therefore unable to spend time with their children and making nannies or grandparents look after them instead. As in Mary Poppins, this leads to children becoming unhappy and can eventually make them rebellious, doing anything to get attention, even if it gets in them trouble.
Mary Poppins acts as a mentor would to Jane and Michael. She is the person who gives the children the attention they crave. This is one of the jobs of a mentor, to listen to a mentee’s concerns and also allow them the chance to talk to someone, even if it’s just about their day. Bert does the same, happily entertaining the children and indulging their childish games.
During the song, A Spoon Full of Sugar, Mary Poppins knows the children will find it boring to clean their room. Therefore she makes the job a game, singing about how doing something fun will help make the job move along quicker. Again, mentors will often do this, finding fun ways to make their mentee more engaged and occupied. Even a simple thing such as singing whilst filling in job applications can quickly improve the situation.
This leads us to, perhaps, the song with the deepest meaning; Feed the Birds. You might not notice it the first time you hear it, but the song is about charity. The old woman sitting on the steps of St. Paul’s is a charity worker, the birds are the people in need, and the small act of paying for a bag of crumbs and feeding them is a little act of kindness.
Mentoring Mr Banks
Before I finish this blog, I would like to touch on one final piece of the film. That of Mr Banks. As mentioned before, Mr Banks is emotionless and void, seems to care little for his children, orders his wife around like a servant and undermines her intelligence, and believes that his view is the right view no matter what. Mr Banks is the sort of man who, when his children were born, simply handed them to the midwife and went straight back to work. He’s also a man who you cannot seeing ever having had a childhood.
Mr Banks is certainly the main character in Mary Poppins, even though it’s her name on the title. He is the one who learns the most throughout the film. If anything, he is the one who needs mentoring, not the children.
However, Bert gives a helpful insight into Mr Banks. He is a man with nobody looking out for him, meaning he must look out for himself. In mentoring terms, he doesn’t have that person who wants to help and is willing to listen. When someone does offer advise, he ignores it, continuing down his destructive path. The only advise he listens to is Bert’s, who tell him to cherish his time with Jane and Michael before they grow up and leave home.
For any mentors reading this, what advise would you give Mr Banks? How would you act around a man who pushes away every bit of help you give? Would you give him space? Would you stand your ground and be firm? Would you find out what he likes and use that to influence him?
Whilst Mary Poppins is not the best film for mentoring, it teaches a lot of valuable life lessons that people across the age spectrum can learn: acts of kindness, making things fun, and the realisation that time is shorter than you think.
All mentors and mentees should watch Mary Poppins and try to spot the hidden meanings of the film. You could make comparisons to your own experience and how to use them in mentoring sessions and the future overall.
Dick Van Dyke had no dance experience whatsoever before getting the role of Bert. If he can go from that to a knockout performance, then nothing is stopping you from doing the same.