I recently saw Saving Mr. Banks for the first time, and of course, I had to watch Mary Poppins afterwards and see what changed. Watching as an adult and in light of the themes of Saving Mr. Banks, I realized the film was so much deeper and more meaningful than the whimsy and fun makes it seem at first. So naturally, I had to do an Overanalysis of one of those layers of meaning. And since anyone can do an analysis about fatherhood and childhood or maturity and playfulness, I decided to instead look at the color symbolism.
Think about it . . .
In Saving Mr. Banks, P. L. Travers requests that the film Mary Poppins be made without the color red simply because she’s “gone off the color.” One flash of crimson and she won’t sign over the rights. As I watched the resulting movie, then, I wondered if they had really made the whole thing without using anything red. The answer, of course, is no. It does start out without the color. In fact, most of the colors are muted, blending together in a watercolor sort of way. There might be one or two red items, but they don’t stand out to the eye.
Then Mary Poppins arrives, and red slowly starts seeping into the picture in her wake. A bow here, a waistband there, a carnation placed in Mr. Banks’s lapel. Towards the end of the movie, Mary Poppins is dressed in a suit of vivid red. If Travers really requested the film to be made without the color, I’d imagine she was furious by this point. Worse, when Mr. Banks is dismissed from the bank, the room in which he stands is as red as can be.
What does it all mean, then? Well, according to the Incredible @rt Department, the color red symbolizes “Excitement, energy, passion, love, desire, speed, strength, power, heat, aggression, danger, fire, blood, war, violence, all things intense or passionate.” In short, red stands for anything energetic or chaotic that might upset Mr. Banks’s calm, proper, carefully scheduled life. As Mary Poppins’s influence over the household slowly brings more excitement, passion, and chaos, the color red becomes more and more prominent. Thus, in a way, red symbolizes Mr. Banks’s world slowly falling apart, until it all goes to pieces at last in the red room at the bank. But when he finally learns the importance of fun, childhood, and nonsense, almost all traces of red vanish along with the turmoil he has experienced and with Mary Poppins herself.
Amazing, isn’t it, how a simple primary color can have so much meaning? Was it intentional? Maybe not. But that’s never stopped us from reading too deeply into a movie. This is, after all, Overanalysis.
Mary Poppins and Saving Mr. Banks are both owned by Disney.