Listen to the soundtracks to “Mary Poppins” and “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” and you’ll notice something interesting. Although both soundtracks contain music written by the Sherman Brothers and Dick Van Dyke appeared in both movies, “Mary Poppins” is the far superior movie. Part of this difference is how the main characters change in “Mary Poppins.”
The heroes in “Mary Poppins” are the two children, Jane and Michael Banks. In the beginning, they’re unhappy and longing for love from their father who works as a banker. The father believes he must be strict to raise his children without any fun. By the end of the story, the father has realized life is more joyous when he’s caring for his children and his children are happier when their father finally flies a kite with them. Mary Poppins and her friend Bert simply help the family change and realize the joy of life.
Compare this to “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” where the father loves his two children but they need a wife/mother. By the end of the story, the father has found a new woman who can be both his wife and the mother to his children. Physically, life has gotten better but emotionally, nobody has changed. They’re still the sweet, loving family they always were.
Even worse, if you listen to the entire “Mary Poppins” soundtrack, you’ll notice that all the songs tell the story and documents the gradual change of the characters from beginning to end. In comparison, the “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” soundtrack contains songs that don’t reflect any change of the main characters because the characters do not change. So regardless of the catchy tune of any of its songs, “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” comes across as a far less engaging story without any emotional change from any major characters.
Compare the musical “Grease” to its inferior sequel, “Grease 2.” The songs of “Grease” reflect the characters’ emotional state at the moment and together, the soundtrack documents the gradual change of the main characters and the challenges they face. On the other hand, the songs of “Grease 2” aren’t catchy and don’t track the emotional change of the characters. Instead, the songs focus on silliness such as songs about reproduction in biology class. The songs of “Grease 2” aren’t worth listening to but even worse, they don’t reflect any emotional state of the main characters, just like far too many of the songs in “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.”
In “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” there’s a song about a king and queen loving each other (although in the movie, the king keeps unsuccessfully trying to kill the queen while singing about his love to her). While interesting, this song has nothing to do with the main characters.
Now look at the songs in “Mary Poppins”:
- Sister Suffragette – Highlights the main goal of the banker’s wife
- The Life I Lead – Highlights the clueless nature of the banker who doesn’t even realize his children are missing
- The Perfect Nanny – Highlights how the children want a nanny who will be fun and caring
- A Spoonful of Sugar – Highlights Mary Poppins’ magic in teaching the children how to perform unpleasant tasks quickly and still enjoy it
- Pavement Artist – Introduces Bert and his philosophy about life that reflects the story’s theme
- Jolly Holiday – Highlights Mary Poppins and Bert further teaching the children about the magic of life
- Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious – Further highlights the joy of life
- Stay Awake – Highlights Mary Poppins caring for the children as they absorb the day’s odd events
- I Love To Laugh – Highlights more odd experiences and the joy of life
- Feed the Birds – Highlights caring which reflects the story’s theme
- A British Bank – Re-emphasizes the banker’s cluelessness about children and what’s important in life
- Fidelity Fiduciary Bank – Further emphasizes the bankers’ cluelessness about what’s important in life
- Chim Chim Cheree – Highlights the joy of work and exploring life
- Step in Time – Further emphasizes the joy of life
- A Man Has Dreams – Shows the banker finally realizing the futility of his original dream to focus solely on his career
- Let’s Go Fly a Kite – Shows the banker’s change and how his family is much happier as a result
Just by listening to the songs of “Mary Poppins” in order, you can follow the story and emotional change of the heroes. Great musicals do this such as “The Sound of Music” or “My Fair Lady.” Poor musicals fail to have the songs emphasize the story and theme such as “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” or “Grease 2.”
Listen to soundtracks of musicals and you should be able to track the emotional state of the story. If not, then the musical likely has missed the point of having songs in the first place.