Poppins (1964) was a
first for me in two ways: one of the earliest movies I can remember seeing in a
theater (I was five years old when it was reissued in 1973 and the Rialto
Cinema in Westfield, New Jersey, the theater where I saw it, is actually one of
the few remaining theaters from that era that is still in business) and one of
the first movies I saw played back on a VCR (in 1980). I could hardly believe my eyes at age 5 and
wondered just how in the world Mary Poppins (she is never, ever to be called
just “Mary”), the chimney sweeper, and her two young charges managed to make
their way into the sidewalk paintings with all of the colorful characters. 40 years later, I could pretty much figure it
out for myself having seen many behind-the-scenes documentaries. And yet even
though the man behind the curtain has been exposed, it still does not detract
from the sheer magic that is this now 50-year-old film, and certainly one of
the longest Disney outings at two hours and nineteen minutes. The songs are pure magic and there is not a
dull one in the entire film, another rarity.
Julie Andrews is positively radiant as
the titular heroine who comes to save the day when Jane and Michael Banks (Karen
Dotrice and Matthew Garber respectively, of course), the young children of the
too-busy-for-children parents George Banks (David Tomlinson) and Winifred Banks
(Glynis Johns), want a new nanny after they drive off their last one (Elsa
Lanchester) in a fit of aggravation. Their
ripped-up-by-their-father classified ad makes its way to Mary Poppins who appears
to be just what the children ordered. She
takes them on several adventures, the most colorful of which involves the
aforementioned jaunt into the colorful sidewalk chalk drawings. Animation and live action match in this
sequence to produce some truly remarkable sequences. The music is infectious and you cannot help
but find yourself humming along with the characters.
Alas, all good things must come to an
end, and the long and short of it is that Mary Poppins, who successfully brings
the children together with their parents, must leave after a job
well-done. While it becomes apparent
that the children now no longer need Mary Poppins, Mary Poppins indeed has
needed the children…and it shows as she flies off.
The film is a great showcase for the
considerable talents of Julie Andrews who was 28 when she made the film and
also won an Oscar for Best Actress. Dick
Van Dyke is a complete joy, bouncing around with reckless abandon. Karen Dotrice and the late Matthew Garber are
very good as the children.
The sesquipedalian jawbreaker Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious is
perhaps the film’s most well-known song simply because of its ability to
challenge even the most seasoned logophile. A Spoonful of Sugar and the Oscar-winning Chim Chim Cher-ee are additional delights.
Pamela Lyndon Travers, the author of
the original Mary Poppins stories upon which this film is based, reportedly
gave Walt Disney a hard time as he attempted to buy the book rights from her – he
spent over roughly 20 years courting her. This story has come to light and is featured in the new Disney film, Saving Mr. Banks, and it is receiving a
lot of publicity as it stars Tom Hanks as Walt Disney and Emma Thompson as Mary
Poppins has been
released on DVD for its 40th and its 45th anniversaries. The new release features a combination
DVD/Blu-ray/Digital Copy and ports over all the previous extras (which are
considerable, though they are only presented in standard definition) and adds
two new ones in high definition: a 14-minute piece called Becoming
Mr. Sherman which features Richard Sherman, one of the writers of
the film’s music, speaking with actor Jason
Schwartzman (who actually portrays Richard Sherman in the
aforementioned Saving Mr.
Banks)talking about the making of the film. The other extra is a Karaoke supplement.
The film looks gorgeous and sounds
terrific on Blu-ray and is a must for Disney aficionados.