Funny Straight to the Heart

When he wasn’t competing for World’s Worst Dad in Mary Poppins, David Tomlinson was also swindling the good people of London with hocus-pocus and back-stabbing Americans over misbehaving cars.  In other words, Tomlinson was a perfect antagonist for Disney movies, not scary or machiavellian, just petty and selfish.  His humor and sad, puppy eyes enabled us to care about him, even at his characters’ weakest moments (although he was a real pratt in Love Bug.)  So, the audience cared about more than good triumphing over evil; we also saw how the main characters grew into and improved the small community on screen.

I realized just how much soul rings through his characters when I watched the wistful studio recording of Portobello Road’s last refrain from Bedknobs and Broomsticks.  Tomlinson stood in the sound room with gray hair and a white oxford, and sang right into the mic the sadness of yesteryear’s unwanted trinkets.  It captures the same mood as the turning-moment in Mary Poppins when Mr. Banks realizes his life is a crunched up bowler hat, but I think he does it even better 7 years later.  Without Mr. Browne’s rakish twinkle and the clatter of carts on cobblestone, the simplicity of each word in Portobello Road is more clearly noticed and I recommend checking out the special features of the B&B DVD. It also includes the full version of Browne’s clumsy street magic show to the song “With a Flair.”

If it seems that the two movies have a lot in common, it’s because Walt bought the rights to Mary Norton’s books as a back-up while he was negotiating for Mary Poppins.  MP was a hit in 1964, though the difficult process is being captured in a documentary Saving Mr. banks. Although Julie Andrews won Best Actress for the title role, we can all agree that Mr. Banks grounded that movie and made it something more than a vignette of comic stories.    After the success, the team reunited to finish what they’d started on B&B and release it in ’71.  So, the movies have the same director, producer, the Sherman Brothers composer team, and Tomlinson and create similar magic.


David Tomlinson passed away June 24, 2000.

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