In the 1964 film Mary Poppins, the flying nanny takes Jane and Michael on a Jolly Holiday with Bert. When they return, the children carry on about all the fun they had throughout the fantasy adventure fox hunting and riding a horse from a Merry-Go-Round.

Mary Poppins refuses to admit that she took part in any horse race or indeed took the children on any adventure at all except a walk in the park.

Why does Mary Poppins refuse to acknowledge that the adventure took place? What purpose does this serve to the story and to each of the characters?

  • 8
    Well, in all fairness, it's not that anybody asks. Mr. Banks says that his children's story about adventuring in a sidewalk drawing is absurd, and Mary agrees--it's absolutely absurd. It's also true, but she didn't say that it wasn't...
    – Exal
    Jan 8, 2019 at 17:02
  • Even in Part 2 similarly she calls herself no nonsense nanny
    – user63699
    Jan 9, 2019 at 5:12
  • I think @Flater is pretty close to the mark. I've added a comment below his answer to continue the discussion about duping the children as well as Mr. Banks.
    – Knight
    Jan 9, 2019 at 14:01

2 Answers 2


As in many kids' movies, the world of the children is different from that of the adults. In this case, Mary comes across as a friendly-but-strict nanny to the adults. The children initially also see her this way, but they soon learn that she's a very interesting person.

The "spoonful of sugar" scene helps illustrate this point. Mr Banks will really only hear that Mary made the children clean up their room. But only the children know that Mary uses magic to do so.

The way Mary introduces magical elements always leaves it open to a different interpretation, where there maybe is no magic and the children simply believe it was because of their imagination.

  • Maybe the children did physically clean up their toys, but Mary distracting them by turning it into a game, so the children didn't even realize they were doing a chore. When they finish their game, they realize their room is cleaned "without any effort".
  • Maybe Uncle Albert was just really good at making the children laugh, and they laughed so much until they were light in the head.
  • Maybe Bert simply showed them amazing drawings of the horseraces, penguin restaurant, etc. He may just be a really good storyteller (which seems to be the case based on his interactions with the children), and he is able to make the story come to life. The actual animation we see in the movie may simply be the imagination of the children based on the stories and songs Bert tells/sings them; while in reality they're still standing in the park next to the drawings, dancing with Bert.

That's the thing about children: the line between imagination and reality is rather blurry. Since the movie is from the children's perspective, this means the viewer may simply be drawn into the children's imaginary world.

But I think this is a cover story. It seems Mary Poppins truly has magical qualities (it's not just imagination). There's no real explanation for her flying umbrella, the children didn't even know her when she landed; so they'd have no reason to make it up at that point in time.
Assuming she is indeed magical, she seems to still intentionally approach it in a way that the adults never find out about it, and she always has a more realistic explanation for what they did (much like my bullet point examples above).

She barely needs to actively work at hiding the magic, as shown by Mr Banks' immediate assumption that the children are embellishing their story about the adventure in the park. Mr Banks, just like most adults in a kids' movie, has no vivid imagination anymore and is more likely to assume the children are embellishing rather than speaking the truth about their magical nanny.

  • I do believe though that just before the song "Stay Awake" in the 1964 Mary Poppins, Michael exclaims, "But I did see a horse race!" Yet Mary Poppins dismisses him as if he is embellishing. One might argue based on your answer that Mary is keenly aware that she will need to discuss the story with Mr. Banks who (if Saving Mr. Banks is to be believed) is the real target in Mary Poppins. Continuing that argumentation, Mary must downplay the elements of fantasy to something more manageable for a man with no imagination. To that end, perhaps even the children must be duped. Great answer though!
    – Knight
    Jan 9, 2019 at 14:00
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    @Knight: It's not impossible that it is in fact all in the children's imagination, but I'm just not sure enough to make a final call on that. As far as I'm aware, all the magical events are auxiliary, i.e. they're don't particularly support the plot or have to be true for the other (real) events in the movie to be possible.
    – Flater
    Jan 9, 2019 at 14:05
  • Also true. Maybe it's the romantic in me but it just seems like if nothing magical actually happened, that the movie would seem to lose a lot of its character. I agree though, that that interpretation is possible and I believe you are right that most if not all the magical sequences don't directly move the plot forward. In fact, if I recall correctly, most of the plot is moved forward by Mr. Banks' reaction to events he wasn't actually a part of. The one caveat might be Admiral Boom who's existence is as fantastic as the events yet he interacts with Mr. Banks personally.
    – Knight
    Jan 9, 2019 at 14:44
  • @Knight "Yet Mary Poppins dismisses him as if he is embellishing" - not so much - she just tells him to go to sleep. People who've ever tried to put children to bed know that you don't disagree with them, you just smile and nod, smile and nod
    – AakashM
    Jan 10, 2019 at 12:50

Emma Brockes of the Guardian suggests that Mary's refusal to acknowledge her own magical actions (a policy she continues in Mary Poppins Returns) has an educational purpose for the children.

What is it she teaches the children? Empathy; mindfulness; a sneaky determination to win (at the horse race). Tidiness. Not to gush. Not to worry, overly, about whether or not they are liked. Simultaneously to believe and not believe what they see. As in the books, she denies to the children that anything magical has happened, inculcating scepticism and something worthwhile about view point.

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