Could Mary Poppins be a Navy SEAL?

Of course the answer is NO.


During the past two weeks, I’ve seen two movies in the theater. Saving Mr. Banks and Lone Survivor. The first, a story of British author P.L. Travers and how she finally allowed Walt Disney to adapt Mary Poppins, her popular children’s book, into a film. The second, a gut-wrenching, inspiring survival account of U.S. Navy SEAL (Ret.) Marcus Luttrell and those members of his team who tragically lost their lives during a massive firefight in Afghanistan.


Travers was extremely protective of the intellectual property and absolutely against the idea of turning her novel into an animated film. So much so, that it took Walt Disney nearly twenty years to convince her that his company’s film version would do her story justice.

I should confess that I’ve never seen Mary Poppins, nor have I read the book, but the fact that Travers’ book was produced into a film, led me to believe that it might be a story worth watching. Initially, I was a bit bored and found P.L. Travers completely unlikeable (credit to actress Emma Thompson). She was insulting, brusque, and inflexible and the numerous flashbacks felt disruptive of any momentum otherwise developed by the story.

As the film progressed, it became apparent that two stories were unfolding: 1) P.L. Travers’ childhood; and 2) Disney’s pursuit of Mary Poppins, the first being the catalyst for the second. And so it went, one scene, one flashback at a time, P.L. Travers concoction of Mary Poppins coming to life on screen.

…a lesson learned

My musings are based solely on what was presented in the screenplay (you can troll the internet to find omissions from the story), but I have to admit that the way the story was told on screen slowly won me over and it also provided a terrific reminder of the value in not cutting off from relationships or tasks; seeing something through, despite outward signs that might justify walking away–Travers certainly gave Disney every reason to scrap the project and move on–but persistence and patience resulted in a collaboration that brought her story to presumably millions of people who hadn’t read her book.

The fact that the adaption occurred was not some tale of redemption, though. The real story was in Travers’ imaginary construct of Mary Poppins and what she represented and how she fought to tell that story. No doubt a conflicted woman, Travers was the child of an alcoholic father whom she loved dearly but was unable to save from his own vices. So why would I dare ask if Mary Poppins had what it takes to become a Navy SEAL? It’s rhetorical and the answer is still no, but she wasn’t some fanciful housekeeper toting an umbrella and singing show tunes, she was a figment of Travers’ imagination, borne of her

 own creativity, self-preservation, and will to survive…

Which brings me to the second film, Lone Survivor. It’s the story of Navy SEAL (Ret.) Marcus Luttrell and his teammates and their involvement in a 2005 firefight in Afghanistan while conducting reconnaissance on a high-level Al-Qaeda operative. His three teammates were killed during the firefight against a numerically superior enemy force but Luttrell, battered and literally broken himself, went on to survive against incalculable odds before ultimately being rescued five days later. In addition to the loss of his teammates, an entire flight crew and a Quick React Force of SEAL’s were also killed when an RPG hit their helicopter during an attempt to support Luttrell and his team. This film was based on his own account of what took place in the Hindu Kush region of Afghanistan during Operation Redwing.

I lack the ability, or more importantly, the bona fides do it justice here so I won’t make the attempt, but do yourself a favor and purchase the book Lone Survivor. I read it when it was first released and found it to be equal parts heroic grit and tear-jerker, but appropriately blunt and honest.

The film has managed to bring the story to life and does a remarkable job of portraying the professionalism, courage, and selflessness that cannot be described with the written word. The maxim of any good film: show don’t tell, was achieved in spades. Envy, awe, respect, heartbreak, pride…these were only a few of the things I felt while watching this story and if you feel like you’ve had a rough day, go spend the money and time to watch it.

Incidentally, I saw it inside a packed theater with my son and at its conclusion, actual photographs and videos of fallen warriors were shown on screen. Slowly, hauntingly, one after another, they appeared and I’ve never heard that kind of quiet inside a theater in my entire life. Nobody moved.

Why ask the question?

The only, allow me to repeat, only parallel I’m drawing here is that of the courage to look within and operate on one’s survival instinct; Travers, her childhood, and Luttrell, his harrowing experience after a compromised mission. My son is nine and he hasn’t seen Mary Poppins either. I’m not sure it would appeal to his sensibilities, but as a calculated decision, I took him to see Lone Survivor. We talked beforehand about the language he’d hear and I explained that that’s part of reality in the military. He’s a good kid who never swears and in the end, any curse words were overshadowed by the action on screen and the courage displayed by the SEALs. I guarantee it.

Back in the old days, we had neighbors who were Navy SEALs. Early twenties, reserved but direct in their manner, and aside from being really nice guys in general, extremely cool customers. Their bearing would have led you to believe they were much older than they were and you never would have known what they did for a living if you passed them on the street. These were guys we knew and who were always polite to this out-of-shape former Marine and his military buff son. They patiently answered all of his questions about equipment, often left him gifts of extra gear on our porch, and even showed him how to apply spray-painted camouflage to his NERF guns.

After the movie, we talked about how it could have just as easily been their story. We were thankful it wasn’t but that’s a pretty powerful connection that couldn’t be learned from a video game or an athlete referring to a football game as “going to war.” I’ve never met Marcus Luttrell, but I’ve encountered the spirit that embodies the warriors depicted in the film.

Mary Poppins is only an imaginary character, her creation based on a strong self-preservation instinct borne of Travers’ reality. Ironically, the heroes of Lone Survivor are all quite real, but their instincts and the actions they displayed are truly the stuff of legend.