Mary Poppins: 45th Anniversary Edition
R1 - America - Disney/Buena Vista Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Anthony Arrigo (24th April 2009).
The Film

I love the undeniable magic that springs forth from every pre-1980’s Disney film. Sure, around the time "Mary Poppins" (1964) was made Disney was known for their feature-length animated films, and not so much for their live-action features, but this is the film that changed that perception. Combining live-action with animation, Disney crafted a timeless film full of memorable characters brought to life through award-winning performances (Van Dyke’s cockney accent not withstanding). On the surface, this is a film about an otherworldly nanny bringing some joy to the stringent lives of two children desperate for fun and excitement. But I’ve always appreciated the subtext to Disney’s earlier output, which in this case tells the tale of a woman who is ostensibly a witch with supernatural, unexplained powers and a penchant for imbuing young children with a sense of free-will and adventure.

The film opens up with a musical tune from a one-man band, fronted by Bert (Dick Van Dyke), a streetwise renaissance man who introduces us to the Banks family. Mrs. Banks (Glynis Johns) is a songstress with a cause, championing the local women’s suffrage movement. Mr. Banks (David Tomlinson) is a rigid, authoritarian who works in the financial market. Their two children, Jane (Karen Dotrice) and Michael (Matthew Garber), however, are quite the handful. When their current nanny decides to quit after the children disappear for the fourth time in a week, Mr. Banks has no option but to find a suitable replacement. The children write up a list of their preferred qualifications, but their father summarily dismisses it as nonsense and tears it up. But a strange thing happens… The letter is reconstituted and finds its way into the hands of one Mary Poppins (Julie Andrews), a nanny who is “practically perfect in every way”. She is hired and, along with Bert, they treat the children to fantastical adventures which are rather psychedelic in nature. At the same time, Mr. Banks’ career is shaken up, and he starts to realize that there are more important things in life than discipline and authority, namely his children.

Julie Andrews made her feature film debut with "Mary Poppins" and the role won her an Academy Award. It’s hard to believe this is her first film; Andrews seems so full of confidence on-screen. This, I’m sure, is largely due to her extensive Broadway experience beforehand. An interesting note of trivia is that Andrews took this film on after being passed over for Audrey Hepburn as the lead in "My Fair Lady" (1964), a role Andrews originally played on stage. Andrews would later beat out Hepburn for the Academy Award for this film. This is a signature role that she has been and will be remembered for decades to come, and she’s a real triple threat here with her radiant singing voice, dancing abilities and her extraordinary performance.

Dick Van Dyke is such a joy to watch in this film; I don’t care how bad his Cockney accent is. Hell, he even engages in a little self-deprecation on the bonus materials when discussing his oft-maligned voice work. His character here, Bert, has a long history with Mary, though the film stops short of saying they were romantically involved it certainly is alluded to. Van Dyke’s whimsical, affable charm and cool demeanor makes him a favorite for me here. He’s a veritable jack-of-all-trades, and his skills play a large part in Mary’s adventures with the children. Maybe they’re two people with a similar background? The film never says so, but Bert adds a more playful dimension to the story to counter Mary’s fun-loving but firm disposition.

Why aren’t children nearly as tolerable in films today as they were back in the Golden Age? That’s a bit of hyperbole, since not every child actor today is a drag, but kids back then took their jobs as seriously as their adult contemporaries it seems. Both of the young actors here, Karen Dotrice as Jane and Matthew Garber as Michael, give exemplary performances. Neither is too smart for their own good, nor are they such unmanageable brats that they come across as annoying and childish. It’s easy to see where they’re coming from; both of them being stuck in a house with an overbearing father and nannies that are too rigid and unable to adapt to caring for children with a sense of adventure. These kids aren’t troublemakers; they just want to play like children often do. Jane is more of the brains, while Michael is the humorous sidekick. Since the film essentially rests on their shoulders, as they feature in almost every scene, it’s of crucial importance that they shine. And they do.

Likewise, Jane and Michael’s parents, George and Winifred Banks, are spot-on. The film takes place in Edwardian era England around the year 1910. Winifred is a free-spirit, crusading for women’s rights and possessing a vivid wardrobe, whereas George is stiff as a board and extremely stuffy. It’s a wonder they even made children. Even though she is sympathetic to the children’s needs, George makes sure he has final say in all matters and there’s nothing that can be said to sway him otherwise. I especially enjoyed Tomlinson’s performance; he does such a wonderful job of slipping into the role of a strict father bound to his values.

"Mary Poppins" is based on the literary series of the same name, though much of this film is taken from the debut novel first published in 1934. Written by P.L. Travers, Walt Disney himself fought long and hard to acquire the rights to the books, and he finally did once Travers was allowed to have some say in the script. Changes were made to make the film more easily adaptable to the big screen, such as condensing characters and pushing back the setting from the 30’s to 1910, but the biggest objection Travers had was the marriage of live-action footage combined with animation. Thankfully, she didn’t have any say in vetoing it because the film may not have been nearly as memorable without all of the classic Disney animation the studio was known for. "Mary Poppins" went on the win 5 Academy Awards, along with garnering 13 nominations – the most ever for a Disney film.

Video

For this 45th Anniversary Edition, "Mary Poppins" has been given a 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. And for a film that old, this looks exquisite. The film is full of all the colors of the rainbow, and each one radiates on this transfer. Black levels are rich, whites look natural and there are no noticeable digital issues I suppose some work could have been done to clean up the visual effects, as it’s rather obvious when they are present, but that fact shouldn’t dissuade anyone from buying this release. Aside from a possible future Blu-ray release, this is likely the best this film will look on home video.

Audio

Viewers are given the option of a newly-enhanced English Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound mix or the original theatrical English Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo mix, there are also French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks provided. I found nothing wrong with the new 5.1 mix; nothing sounds too over-produced or out of place. The sound is rich and full, just as it should be for a musical film.
There are subtitles in English for the hard of hearing, Spanish and French.

Extras

Disney continues to prove that they want to give consumers a good bang for their buck with this release. "Mary Poppins" has been given the 2-disc treatment with plenty of bells and whistles, though most of the material here previously appeared on the "40th Anniversary Edition" of the film. This material includes an audio commentary, several behind-the-scenes featurettes, documentaries, bonus short film, theatrical trailers and TV spots and numerous photo galleries among other extras explored below.

DISC ONE:

First up are a series of "Disney" song selections, although these are really nothing more than clips of the songs within the film. An option is provided to play each one with or without the accompanying lyrics on screen. The included songs are:

- "A Spoonful of Sugar" which runs for 2 minutes 54 seconds.
- "Jolly Holiday" which runs for 4 minutes 42 seconds.
- "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" which runs for 1 minute 56 seconds.
- "I Love to Laugh" which runs for 2 minutes 37 seconds.
- "Feed the Birds" which runs for 3 minutes 37 seconds.
- "Chim Chim Cher-ee" which runs for 1 minute 10 seconds.
- "Step in Time" which runs for 8 minutes 15 seconds.
- "Let's Go Fly a Kite" which runs for 2 minutes 39 seconds.

Listed secondly (and not even on the packaging!) is an audio commentary with stars Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke, Karen Dotrice and songwriters Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman. This is a fun track made even better by the fact that it’s so obvious how close all of these people are to each other. There isn’t a lot of technical production talk, but there are lots of production notes and stories told.

“Poppins Pop-Up Fun Facts” is a trivia track which can be selected to run the length of the film, providing tidbits about the story and production along the way.

Finally, some sneak peek bonus trailers are included for the following:

- “Beverly Hills Chihuahua” runs for 55 seconds.
- “Bolt” runs for 2 minutes and 31 seconds.
- “Monsters, Inc.” runs for 1 minute and 9 seconds.
- “TinkerBell and the Lost Treasure” runs for 1 minute and 1 second..
- “Oliver & Company” runs for 1 minute and 2 seconds.
- "Disney Parks" promo runs for 32 seconds.
- “Pinocchio” runs for 1 minute and 27 seconds.
- “Up” runs for 1 minute and 51 seconds.
- "Disney Movie Rewards" promo runs for 20 seconds.
- “Space Buddies” runs for 1 minute and 29 seconds.
- “The Secret of the Magic Gourd” runs for 2 minutes and 12 seconds..

DISC TWO:

The features on disc two are listed under different headers, "Disney on Broadway", "Backstage Disney" and "Music & More", which is quite helpful considering the wealth of material presented here. There is also a bonus short film included.

“Disney on Broadway” features the following:

- “Mary Poppins: From Page to Stage” documentary runs for 48 minutes and 4 seconds. Ashley Brown (Who plays Mary Poppins on Broadway), Gavin Lee (who plays Bert on stage), producer Thomas Schumacher, composer Robert B. Sherman and numerous members of the crew sit down to discuss the transition of P.L. Traver’s novels from written page to the Broadway stage. This is a very in-depth look at the genesis of the project with lots of great production stories.

- “Step in Time: Musical Number from Mary Poppins on Broadway” featurette runs for 7 minutes and 7 seconds. Composer George Stiles introduces this clip from the stage show version of the story.

- “Bob Crowley’s Design Gallery” features a 14 second introduction from Bob Crowley before we are given the option to view 4 different albums.

- “Costume Design” features 33 images.
- “Concept Art” features 13 images.
- “Set Designs” features 6 images.
- “Set Models” features 16 images.

- A download via web link is available as an MP3 for the song “Step in Time”.

“Backstage Disney” features the following:

- “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious: The Making of Mary Poppins” documentary runs for 50 minutes and 43 seconds. This lengthy look back at the film’s history is hosted by star Dick Van Dyke, with interview footage featuring stars Julie Andrews, Karen Dotrice, Glynis Johns, composers Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman and other members of the crew, as well as those well-versed in the film’s history. Every single detail of the film’s production is covered here, from how Walt decided on choosing Andrews for the part to how protective Travers was of her source material, even to someone like Disney. This is very well put together and lots of great information is shared.

- “Movie Magic” featurette runs for 7 minutes and 5 seconds. An annoying voiceover talks about the film’s many effects, including the animatronics and stop-motion effects. Informative, but the tween-agers voice makes it sound like they made it for kids.

“The Gala World Premiere” featurette runs for 17 minutes and 45 seconds. Extremely rare footage of the film’s premiere from 1964 is presented here in color and black & white after being found in 2 separate Disney vaults. I love old Disney footage and this is a great look back at some of the era’s celebrities and fashions.

Dick Van Dyke Make-Up Test” featurette runs for 1 minute and 6 seconds. Van Dyke talks about how he got the part and what they did to achieve his look, all while footage is played of his actual make-up tests shot during pre-production.

Within the “Backstage Disney” option is another section called “Publicity” featuring the film’s trailers and TV spots. There are 8 available, and they include:

- Original theatrical teaser trailer runs for 2 minutes and 54 seconds. This isn’t really a trailer; it’s actually a hilariously-scripted bit with Walt Disney getting an ego boost courtesy of manager Bob Selig before concluding with a 50 second teaser.
- Original theatrical trailer runs for 4 minutes and 14 seconds.
- Julie Andrews’ Premiere Greeting runs for 40 seconds.
- Original TV spot #1 runs for 32 seconds.
- Original TV spot #2 runs for 32 seconds.
- 1966 Re-issue theatrical trailer runs for 1 minute and 2 seconds.
- 1973 Re-issue theatrical trailer #1 runs for 1 minute and 13 seconds.
- 1973 Re-issue theatrical trailer runs for 1 minute and 3 seconds.

- “Mary Poppins" still art galleries features 11 different galleries:

-- “Visual Development” features 36 images.
-- “Story Development” features 13 images.
-- “Peter Ellenshaw Paintings” features 12 images.
-- “Recording Sessions” features 6 images.
-- “Costumes & Make-Up” features 35 images.
-- “Behind the Scenes” features 77 images.
-- “Cast Photos” features 18 images.
-- “Walt & Friends” features 6 images.
-- “The Premiere” features 10 images.
-- “Publicity” features 14 images.
-- “Memorabilia” features 21 images.

“Music & More” features the following:

- “A Magical Musical Reunion Featuring Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke and Richard M. Shermanfeaturette runs for 17 minutes and 17 seconds. The trio sits down to talk about the film and their friendships.

- “A Musical Journey with Richard M. Shermanfeaturette runs for 20 minutes and 50 seconds. The composer takes up through the film’s musical numbers, and he even discusses a few that didn’t make the final cut.

- Deleted song: "Chimpanzoo” runs for 1 minute and 39 seconds. Richard M. Sherman plays a tune cut from the final film.

Finally, there is a bonus short, which runs for 9 minutes and 52 seconds, called “The Cat That Looked At A King”, which is from ”Mary Poppins Opens the Door” by P.L. Travers. Julie Andrews reprises her role here for this recent short film. It’s low budget, but it’s also fun.

Overall

Until this film gets a Blu-ray release, which it rightly deserves, this is the best looking, sounding and feature-filled version we’re going to get. Disney has put together a classy package with a solid video/audio presentation and more supplements than anyone could have asked for. Having a commentary track with Andrews and Van Dyke alone would make this a treasure worth owning; everything else just adds to the magic.

The Film: B+ Video: B+ Audio: A- Extras: A Overall: B+

 


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