Mary Poppins was the subject of a series of books by P.L. Travers. Long before Harry Potter came on the scene, Mary was delighting children all over the world with her spectacular magical abilities. At the time Walt Disney was making a name for himself and his studio by bringing many of the children’s classics to the big screen. From fairy tales to Winnie The Pooh, the studio was providing the look and the soundtrack to the imaginative worlds already known and beloved by millions. It was a magnificent strategy, and it would pay off huge for the company. The problem with Mary Poppins was that it needed to be a live action film. Mary and her pals needed to appear as real people. The worlds themselves could be animated, of course, but Mary and Bert and the children had to be real. Walt insisted upon it. And so a painstaking effort was begun to bring the story to life on screen in a way no film had yet done before. The results were as magical as Mary herself and have captivated children of all ages ever since.
In the 1960’s Walt Disney was the center of some of the most groundbreaking f/x technology in Hollywood. Disney was that era’s Industrial Light & Magic. Even films not produced by the Mouse Factory went to their f/x wizards for their high end work. Films like Forbidden Planet made use of the Disney magic for a few of their trickier sequences. Mary Poppins is a wonderful example of the magic that Disney was capable of at the time. The film is a wonderful blend of live action and hand drawn animation work. The two worlds interface seamlessly even by today’s standards.
You can’t really pin down the success and endurance of this film to any one thing. There are two elements that can’t be ignored here. The songwriting Sherman Brothers share considerable credit for the film’s appeal. Even if you’ve never seen the film, and it’s hard to imagine there is anyone who hasn’t, you do know many of the unforgettable songs from it. Just A Spoonful Of Sugar, Chim-Chin-Cher-ee, Let’s Go Fly A Kite, and, of course, Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. The melodies are simple but catchy. Once you get them into your head it’s an awful chore to try and remove them. The Sherman Brothers are responsible for many of Disney’s famous melodies from most of the musical films. If Walt Disney himself came with a soundtrack, you can bet the Sherman Brothers would have written it, and you’d still be singing it today. The songs captivate children, but somehow even adults can’t seem to help but by enchanted by them. Check out some clips to the songs here: Mary Poppins Songs
The second half of this formula would have to be the cast, particularly, Dick Van Dyke and Julie Andrews. Both turned their characters into iconic milestones of their careers and the memories of children everywhere. One can’t imagine anyone else in the parts. I’ve never seen the long running Broadway production, and you will get glimpses of it here in the extras, but for me, no one else can ever fill those roles. This is a film that ought never to be remade. If you don’t know the story by now, shame on you. I won’t even attempt to tell it here. Get the disc and experience it for yourself. You’ll never regret the time you spent.
Mary Poppins is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1. For 45 years of age this thing looks pretty good. I will tell you, however, if you have the 40th anniversary edition, the transfer and encoding is the same. Colors are reproduced cheerfully and don’t seem to show their age at all. The animation is particularly bright with wonderful texture. You can really see that part of it when the gang enters one of Bert’s chalk drawings. Black levels are outstanding. There is the occasional flaw in the print. This is a film that desperately deserves a 4k restoration for an eventual Blu-ray high definition release. Until then, this is as good as it likely ever looked.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track does a great job of not being overdone. Ambients are kept to pretty much musical numbers and the occasional subtle sound. You can opt for the original theatrical version if you’re a purist, but for me this updated audio is a great compromise between the old and the new. Again it is identical to the 40th anniversary release.
There is an Audio Commentary by Andrews, Van Dyke, Karen Dotrice, and The Sherman Brothers. It’s a wonderful chat, and hearing them relive these moments is quite emotional.
This is a 2 disc set just like the release 5 years ago. Most of the extras are the same.
Disc 1 contains direct access to the musical numbers and an optional pop up trivia option. I find those distracting.
Disc 2 contains the following:
Mary Poppins – From Page To Stage: This 48 minute feature is a good look at the Broadway production, and you’ll meet cast and crew from that version of the story. It’s a bit over long for me, but provides a ton of detail on that production.
Step In Time: This 8 minute feature is a clip of the show.
Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious – The Making Of Mary Poppins: This nearly one hour feature is a rare look at the film and the various aspects of production. There are recent as well as vintage interviews and clips. Disney does a great job of giving you the goods on these things.
The Gala World Premier: This 18 minute piece takes you back in time to the world premiere of the film in 1964. Of course, the footage is rough, but well worth the visit.
Movie Magic: The f/x of the film take up this 7 minute feature.
Dick Van Dyke Make-Up Test: You know, Van Dyke also played the bank chairman. Take a quick minute to see some ideas of the character in makeup.
A Magical Musical Reunion: Wow. Andrews and Van Dyke team up some 40 years later, and they look like it was just yesterday. Of course, they’re much older, but they fall right into character.
The Cat That Looked Like A King: A 10 minute Mary Poppins short.
A Musical Journey With Richard Sherman: Half of the great brother team, Richard looks at the composition of the songs on the film. It’s a great 18 minutes with a musical genius.
Deleted Song: It was called Chimpanzoo and it could have been another classic. It’s told through unused storyboards.
Trailer and TV Spot Gallery:
The characters are memorable and the songs are timeless. I have memories of my tiny wooden box phonograph and some Disney 78 RPM records from the film. I wore out the records and the needle. When my parents wouldn’t buy me another needle I learned a physics lesson. I cut a sewing needle in half and jammed it into the soft rubber that held the diamond needle. It was scratchy and killed my records, but dang if it didn’t work. I still remember how I gathered around the cheap record player with some friends in the neighborhood. We’d sing the songs and the girls would act out the movie. I was always Bert. I’m not sure if it was because I was always dirty or that I knew the words to Chim-Chin-Cher-ee by heart. Whatever the reason, we had hours of fun in those days. What’s great is that Mary Poppins is the kind of film you can share with your own children or grandchildren. It still works on almost every level. Mary Poppins isn’t a film, it’s an experience. That’s why it will be around in another 45 years. In a word, it’s “spercalifragilisticexpialidocious”.