Tunesday: “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” – David Tomlinson & Dick Van Dyke

It’s Tuesday so that means at ilisteniwatch.com, it’s Tunesday! Every Tuesday, we will share a song with you that we love and hope you will too. Today, Jason picks “Let’s Go Fly a Kite.”

I was once again pondering what song I should write about for Tuesday Tunesday. I thought of so many great songs, but I had not felt like writing about any of them until, like always, something happened to help me make up my mind. I finally watched Saving Mr. Banks and was inspired to write about “Let’s Go Fly A Kite.” It’s an especially great song for spring when the warm, windy days make the best time to go out and fly a kite. It’s also the pivotal song in the film Mary Poppins as well as serving as a major plot point of Saving Mr. Banks.

A view from Number Seventeen Cherry Tree Lane, London, England of Londoners flying kites in Walt Disney's Mary Poppins.

A view from Number Seventeen Cherry Tree Lane, London, England of Londoners flying kites in Walt Disney’s Mary Poppins.

When I listen to the song I can’t help but feel happy, and who couldn’t? It’s a light, breezy song that goes soaring along through bars and melodies like a kite on the wind. It was, after all, perfectly crafted to be just that by the venerable tunesmiths Richard and Robert Sherman, better known as The Sherman Brothers. For years they produced a seemingly endless array of music for The Walt Disney Company penning songs that would fill the world with music and lyrics for generations to come. Though all of their songs are great, “Let’s Go Fly A Kite” ranks at the top for many people, including myself. Inspired by The Sherman Brothers’ own father Al Sherman, an amateur kite maker who crafted kites for the children of his neighborhood, the personal touch is one of the reasons the song resonates. This song was chosen to be the final tune featured in Mary Poppins, a jewel in the crown of a wonderful soundtrack. When I first heard the song as a child I loved it and thought it was a pretty, happy song. But over time as my love and knowledge of Disney grew I came to realize that what appears to be a simple little song is actually a very well-constructed masterpiece, full of meaning.

As a Disney enthusiast, I can assure you the lore behind the making of Mary Poppins is complex. In 1961, Walt Disney had finally secured the rights to make the film version after nearly two decades of trying to do so. The years-long holdout was due to the author of the Mary Poppins book series P.L. Travers. She was as determined the film not be made as Walt was about making it. To appease her, and to adhere to certain contract stipulations, Walt invited Mrs. Travers to his studios for two weeks to give her insight into the production of the film. Walt, along with the film’s screenwriter Don DaGradi and The Sherman Brothers, attempted to work with Mrs. Travers.

However, it was fruitless due to her persistence that every detail suit her vision. She disliked and rejected all ideas and songs presented to her. But as Saving Mr. Banks portrays, she actually seemed to like one song: “Let’s Go Fly A Kite.” In the Saving Mr. Banks dramatization of the events, Mrs. Travers is seen tapping her feet, dancing and even singing along in the workroom as the song is being performed for her. It’s a happy moment in the film just as it is in the original Mary Poppins film.

Mary Poppins GIF

A scene from Saving Mr. Banks depicting the making of the song “Let’s Go Fly A Kite” from the workroom at Walt Disney Studios to its place in the film Mary Poppins.

For Mrs. Travers, this song represented an end to something that had bothered her for the majority of her life. She felt like she had let her father down after his death from influenza. Despite being helpless, she still felt as if there was something she could have done to save him. As a child she pinned all her hopes on her great aunt, Helen Morehead, who had come to stay with the family while her father was ill. (Mrs. Travers’ father and Aunt Helen would later serve as the models for Mr. Banks and Mary Poppins, respectively.) When her aunt Helen came to visit she seemed to the young Mrs. Travers, to blow in with the wind and made everything seem possible. She made a promise to P.L. that she would fix everything which greatly upset her when her father passed away. She felt betrayed by her aunt because she hadn’t been able to “fix” her father. This, along with many other problems and situations throughout her life, stuck with Mrs. Travers and she never fully moved on from them. Yet, when she heard “Let’s Go Fly A Kite” she had some release as the song put a happy ending on a story she felt neither had nor really deserved one.

For Walt, the song gave him the ending he needed, as well. He had wanted the film to end on a happy note. There were many ups and downs in the film most directly due to the actions and life of Mr. George Banks. Some of these plot points didn’t sit so well with Mrs. Travers, in particular the scene where Mr. Banks tears up his children’s note and tosses it into the fire. This, she felt, made the father look like a horrible person when in fact he wasn’t. So Walt, along with Mr. DaGradi and The Sherman Brothers, crafted an ending that would be both happy and make Mr. Banks look like the good father he was.

George (David Tomlinson) and Winifred (Glynis Johns) Banks beckon their children to "go fly a kite" in Walt Disney's Mary Poppins.

George (David Tomlinson) and Winifred (Glynis Johns) Banks beckon their children to “go fly a kite” in Walt Disney’s Mary Poppins.

Therefore, the song sung by a happy family at the end of Mary Poppins metaphorically works as a bandage for several problems, both for the story and the real people behind it. For Mrs. Travers it made her feel as if she hadn’t disappointed her father. Afterall, Mary Poppins had come not to save Jane and Michael but rather to save Mr. Banks. In real life, her Aunt Helen couldn’t save Mr. Travers Goff, but in film, Mary Poppins could save Mr. Banks. Also, within the story the song showed that everything was going to be fine for the Banks family. Mr. Banks had learned that while life has it’s dark sides all is not lost. At a time when he felt like he had disappointed himself and his family, that he had missed out on enjoying time with his family in favor of a job he was ultimately fired from, he was finally able to look on the bright side. So, he goes home after being fired for causing a run at the bank and fixes Jane and Michael’s kite. Then Mary Poppins leaves on the wind that blew her in, the same wind that made the kite soar “up through the atmosphere, up where the air is clear.”

The Banks family skip down the street as they "go fly a kite" in Walt Disney's Mary Poppins.

The Banks family skip down the street as they “go fly a kite” in Walt Disney’s Mary Poppins.

So, there you have it, my pick for Tunesday, “Let’s Go Fly A Kite.” This song took an idiom that is so often used negatively – “ah, go fly a kite!” – and made it a positive proclamation to go enjoy life. After all, isn’t that what Mary Poppins is about – turning negatives into positives? Well, Spring has sprung, the birds are singing, the flora’s blooming and the weather’s warm and windy. So, let’s go “dance on the breeze over ‘ouses and trees… let’s all go fly a kite!”

Jason, a freelance journalist, is a fan of Walt Disney, Dolly Parton and Stephen King among so many others. Read more from him here.