A Spoonful of Sugar: The Music of Mary Poppins

Music of Mary PoppinsGenerations of children have wondered, does a spoonful of sugar make the medicine go down? In fact, I bet that if you’ve ever seen the movie, those four simple words have the power to set off a mental musical. There are many wonderful things about Mary Poppins, but it’s the music that makes it stick with audiences from their diaper days until they’re old and gray. P.L. Travers, who wrote the first book about Mary Poppins in 1934, lamented that the movie was “all fantasy and no magic.” She was not entirely correct – the costumes, sets, and animation were fantastic, but the music was magical.

The Music of Mary Poppins

It took Richard and Robert Sherman, who wrote many of the songs for Mary Poppins, two weeks to come up with the word Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.When broken into roots, the word looks like this: Super – above, cali – beauty, fragilistic – delicate, expiali – to atone, docious – educable. In the movie, Mary explains that it is something to say when you have nothing to say. If you look at it as a sum of its parts, however, you might say that it is an adjective used to describe something that is atoning, through educability, for being above delicate beauty. Just one example of how the music of Mary Poppins has influenced popular culture: Olympian Rodney Pattison won three medals in a vessel he named Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

The Sherman brothers also drew inspiration from the books for their music. “I Love to Laugh” was based on a chapter called “Laughing Gas.” In the book, as in the movie, Mary’s Uncle Albert floats up to the ceiling because he is so very giddy. Bert, Dick Van Dyke’s character in the film, was created from an amalgamation of characters in the books, and was the inspiration for the song “Chim Chim Cher-ee.”

Not all of the Sherman brothers’ songs made the cut, however. Some were rejected, and others merely cut to reduce the length of the film. According to Richard Sherman, more than thirty songs were written that were never used in the film nor released to the public. Not all of them were completely discarded, however. Some verses and melodies were absorbed into other songs in the film, one short song was spoken instead of sung and one song even made its way into the Disney series Welcome to Pooh Corner.

If by this point in the article you don’t have a song from Mary Poppins stuck in your head, it’s been too long since you’ve watched the movie. To rectify this situation, I recommend you watch this video right away to get your much-needed spoonful of Mary Poppins. Lyrics are included on-screen, and singing along is highly encouraged.

Oh, and the answer is yes, it does. When Robert Sherman’s children received their polio vaccines, the medicine was placed on a sugar cube which they swallowed – giving him the idea for the song.


Photo by iphigenia.

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