Mary Poppins

Inciting Event: Jane and Michael Banks submit to their grouchy father George an advertisement for their idealized nanny. George promptly tears up the note, but the pieces float up the chimney behind his back—presumably flying straight to the magic nanny Mary Poppins.

Everything that happens prior to this scene has been set-up. We’ve seen Mary in the clouds, we’ve followed Burt to the Banks’s house, seen their crazy sea captain neighbor, heard the row between the servants as Katie Nana quits in outrage, watched the ditzy suffragette mother return to find her kids have run off—and finally seen the uptight George’s reaction to his children’s getting lost in the park after chasing a broken kite. But not until the first bit of Mary’s magic sends the torn advertisement floating up the chimney do the characters brush with the main conflict.

First Plot Point: Due mostly to the musical numbers, the timing is pretty wonky here. The First Plot Point—Mary’s arrival at the Banks’s and her decision to give them a “trial”—occurs directly on the heels of the Inciting Event.

First Pinch Point: The morning after the children’s adventure in the chalk pavement painting, everyone in the household is cheerful—except for George, who thinks they’re all exhibiting “giddy irresponsibility.” He blames that “Poppins woman” and declares he’ll deal with her before storming off to work. This comes on the heels of Mary herself telling the children she’ll only stay “until the wind changes.” Losing Mary and her good influence on the household is chiefly what’s at stake here, while emphasizing George’s personal struggles and unhappiness.

Midpoint: As George is on the brink of sacking Mary, she neatly turns the tables on him and convinces him it was his idea all along to take the children on an outing—to see where he works at the bank. This is the shift—from George simply reacting to his children to taking an active (if clumsy) interest in their lives.

We’ve also got a beautiful Moment of Truth just after this scene in which Mary sings “Feed the Birds” and explains to the children that “sometimes people we love, through no fault of their own, can’t see past the end of their noses.”

Second Pinch Point: At the bank, George and the other directors try to coerce Michael into opening an account with the tuppence he brought to feed the birds. When the bank president steals the tuppence, Michael throws a fit and starts screaming, “Give me back my money!” The other bank customers panic, causing a run on the bank. Jane and Michael run away, believing their father “doesn’t like us at all.” Even within this highly episodic story, note how this pinch point directly sets up the Third Plot Point.

Third Plot Point: George returns home (to a house full of chimney sweeps) and receives a telephone call summoning him to the bank—with the implicit understanding that he is going to be fired. This is his low moment—symbolized by his professional “death.” But it gets worse (and better) when he learns from Burt that his greatest failure has, in fact, been his relationship with his children.

Climax: George drags himself down to the bank to be fired—and he is.

Climactic Moment: But he finally “gets it”—his story’s Truth. When asked if he has anything to say, he bursts out with “supercalafragilisticexpealladocious.” He begins laughing giddily. He verbally embraces his children, symbolically surrenders the tuppence (representing his Lie that money was all-in-all), and dances out of the room.

Resolution: There is still quite a bit of story that takes place after George’s change of heart in the previous scene. Most importantly, he has to prove his change to his children by mending their kite and taking them out to the park to fly it. But the story’s conflict clearly ends in the previous scene. We know at that point that George is going to be okay. The rest, including Mary Poppins’s departure, is just mop-up.

Notes: As the recent movie Saving Mr. Banks posits, “Mary Poppins didn’t come to save the children”—and it is adamantly clear from the structure that this story is all about George Banks. The actual plot that is occurring amidst all the musical numbers and episodic whimsy (the “twinkling and cavorting,” to borrow another line from Saving Mr. Banks) is all George all the time. Good story structure will always prove what a story is really about.

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