2-Disc Blu-ray/DVD/Digital | DVD/Digital l Instant
Directed by Robert Stevenson
Starring Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke, David Tomlinson, Glynis Johns, Karen Dotrice, Matthew Garber and Ed Wynn
Walt Disney Home Entertainment
Release Date: Dec. 10, 2013
Mary Poppins, the winner of five Academy Awards, flies onto Disney Blu-ray for the first time ever in honor of its (premature) 50th anniversary and the forthcoming release of Saving Mr. Banks. But is the Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke musical practically perfect in every way? The film, yes. The Blu-ray release itself, only practically, as the less-than-perfect presentation and lack of copious new supplemental material have much to be desired.
Critics and everyday individuals alike regard Poppins as one of Walt Disney’s finest achievements – if not his finest piece of cinema – for what the movie represented back in 1964, and how it holds up today. The film, inspired by the P.L. Travers work, showcases how the family dynamic of an early 20th-century clan in London is transformed by the introduction of one very ideal, precise and magical nanny. The tale captured our imaginations, portraying an atmosphere where children could leap into sidewalk drawings and a fantastic woman could soar above the cityscape with an umbrella and carpetbag in tow. The scene, utterly delightful. The people, certainly relatable. The combo, undeniably winning. But what makes Mary Poppins work so well? Credit a combination of elements at play.
First, the music. Richard Sherman and Robert Sherman won Academy Awards for penning the unforgettable “Chim Chim Cher-ee,” but the brothers’ long list of tunes penned for the feature all strike a strong chord. “Feed the Birds” reaches that delicate median between somber and hopeful in its themes about charity. “Jolly Holiday” and “Step in Time” move with bumbling charm, complemented by expert cinematography. “Spoonful of Sugar,” one of the best songs to whistle to, bounces at a happy pace. Then there’s “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” which couldn’t be further from atrocious in its quality. Even the “smaller” songs drive the film in their narrative approaches. “Sister Suffragette” explores Mrs. Banks’ feminist spirit, “The Life I Lead” gives insight into Mr. Banks’ precise personality and even the whimsical “I Love to Laugh” looks into the contrast between joy and sorrow. If one just looks at Mary Poppins‘ plethora of enlivening numbers, it could be considered one of the greatest musicals ever.
Good music, however, is only as good as the individuals delivering those songs. Most fortuitously, the expert cast does the job. Andrews won an Oscar for her performance as Poppins, and she raises the roof. The actress participates in half of the songs, and the cunning and careful consideration Andrews lends to Poppins epitomized how any performer should approach playing a character. Similarly, the occasionally underrated Dick Van Dyke, absolutely sensational as Bert, the luckiest chimney sweep, puts his stamp on the friendly neighbor-like man. David Tomlinson and Glynis Johns are most suitable as the parental unit, oblivious to the majesty taking place. Tomlinson especially shows how the absent father figure can evolve. Matthew Garber and Karen Dotrice play a most precious pair of children, and Ed Wynn as funny and laughing-induced Uncle Albert steals the show in his limited screen time. All seven of these actors have been inducted as Disney Legends, a prestigious honor for a select few who have contributed to The Walt Disney Company. Their performances in Poppins may seal their places in film, and in our hearts.
At the time, the visual effects were unlike what anyone had ever seen materialized in the film medium. Blending animation and live-action had been accomplished before, but nothing along the lines of how Poppins meshed the two. Though five decades later it looks somewhat dated, the amusement of certain sights, such as the children whirling near the ceiling, still puts a smile on my face. Each portion of the film serves as a playful set piece that the actors can manipulate, much like a Broadway stage. Case in point, the chimney sweeps utilize every portion of the fictitious roof to twirl and jump in unified glee. Much like many films of the era, you can tell this was filmed on a Hollywood stage, but the quaint environment supports the tonal quality. The loving story of Poppins teaching Mr. Banks to better appreciate his family live over the harshness of the working world is sentimentally sweet, but never hokey. You can thank the screenwriting team for that.
The visual quality in Poppins‘ Blu-ray transfer, which seems to contain a bit more grain that one should expect, proves disappointing at parts. The animated scenes lack the high-definition sparkle I feel should be ever-present. On the other hand, the close-up shots (where the characters’ faces fill the screen) look really good. While the audio proves solid, it is not as engrossing as other Disney films from the period recently released on Blu-ray. Peter Pan, for instance, boasts a more impressive aural experience. Perhaps that might not be a fair comparison, but the overall presentation feels more ordinary than outstanding.
The only new pieces of bonus material for the Blu-ray are the Becoming Mr. Sherman featurette, a great 14-minute piece that finds Jason Schwartzman (who plays Richard Sherman in Saving Mr. Banks) discussing how to approach the character with Sherman himself. A clip of this segment can be found below. Additionally, anyone musical in the family might enjoy singing “Spoonful of Sugar” and the like in the Mary-oke (Mary Poppins Karaoke) supplement.
Much of the extra material (sadly, only in standard definition) come from the film’s previous DVD releases. The content is all pretty diverse and enthralling, though I find the lack of new content for the 50th Anniversary Edition – save for those aforementioned pieces – very disappointing. Nonetheless, each of these pieces deserves a viewing.
The Disney on Broadway section includes Mary Poppins: From Stage to Screen, a hefty 48-minute documentary on how the stage show came to fruition, and Step In Time, the sequence from the production.
Backstage Disney is rather comprehensive in its scope, with over 1 1/2 hours of content alone. Much of the good material can be found in Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious: The Making of Mary Poppins, an extensive, though not by-the-books look at the creation of the film. The Gala World Premiere and The Gala World Premiere Party take you back to 1964 for that most momentous and glitzy occasion. Movie Magic peeks into the visual effects process, while the Deconstruction of a Scene clips break down the many components behind musical numbers “Jolly Holiday” and “Step in Time.” Want to see Dick Van Dyke all messed up? Regarding cosmetics, that is. The Dick Van Dyke Make-Up Test might be right up your alley. Or right up your chimney, in this case. Publicity compiles both original trailers, as well as re-issue trailers and a selection of television commercials.
Music & More pays even more time to the “note-able” pieces found in the movie. A Magical Musical Reunion is a must-see here, as it shows Andrews, Van Dyke and Sherman reflecting on the past. The deleted song Chimpanzoo is as boisterous as they come with Sherman as songwriter, while the Disney Song Selection brings together all of the hits. The Movie Sing-Along is rather self-explanatory.
The more random, but equally enjoyable piece is a 10-minute short film (The Cat That Looked at a King) starring Andrews sharing a story of a sly feline, fussy king and overlooked queen. The piece, which like Poppins, blends animation and live-action, features impressive voice acting, including the talents of David Ogden Stiers (you might know him as the voices of Cogsworth in Beauty and the Beast and Governor Ratcliffe in Pocahontas) and Tracey Ullman.
Bonus Features: B
Overall Grade: B+
As we leave 17 Cherry Tree Lane, let us reflect on how Mary Poppins has touched our lives, whether directly or not. The infectious songs and vocabulary alone are known to the world, and frequently practiced, too. The performances and storyline remain extremely beloved many decades later. The complete picture is one to be adored and watched many times. Despite the restoration not meeting certain standards – and, absolutely, that determination proves subjective – this Blu-ray release of Mary Poppins warrants a place in your collection.
This is Brett Nachman, signing off. Follow me on Twitter for alerts of new editions of Disney In Depth, Thursdays on Geeks of Doom!