A wonderful, magical journey, still.

James Plath's picture

To tell the truth, I thought I'd see a Blu-ray version of "Mary Poppins" before another anniversary DVD. After all, the handsome two-disc 40th Anniversary Edition came out just five years ago. But from Disney's point of view it probably made sense to release it again, given the streaking popularity of the Broadway and touring version of "Mary Poppins." And so we get this 45th Anniversary Edition, which includes several bonus features that spotlight the stage version. What's fascinating is that Dick Van Dyke, who at the premiere said it was the best picture he was ever in or would be in, declared that "Mary Poppins" would make a great stage play. Everyone disagreed back then, but all these years later he was proven right.

What's even more fascinating is to contemplate how a juvenile novel became not just a film for kids, but a property so appealing that adults would plunk down money to see it performed on the big stage. That's because Disney, who spent 20 years trying to get the rights to adapt P. L. Travers' children's book for film, wasn't making a children's movie first and foremost, or even a family film. He was making a big Hollywood musical, as the original marquee-style posters confirmed. Take away the Academy Award-winning songs by Richard and Robert Sherman, and while you still have top-notch performances by Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke there's a void so big that even Poppins' magic can't fill it. If a Broadway show spawns two or three songs so memorable that people sing them it's considered a success. "Mary Poppins" produced five: "A Spoonful of Sugar," "Chim Chim-Cheree," "Feed the Birds" (Disney's personal favorite), "Let's Go Fly a Kite," and "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious." And two more--"Jolly Holiday" and "Step in Time"--are catchy enough to stick with you.

Just as hard as it is to image this film without the music, it's unthinkable that Julie Andrews wouldn't be Mary Poppins . . . and yet that was almost the case. She hesitated to accept this role--her first film--because she was hoping to land the lead in "My Fair Lady" instead. Audrey Hepburn was chosen for that role, but at the Oscars the next year it was Andrews who won Best Actress over Hepburn, and at the podium she thanked the man who made it all possible: Jack Warner, who turned her down for the role of Eliza Doolittle. I had thought that that clip, which was included on the 40th Anniversary Edition, was one of the highlights of the previous two-disc release. Unfortunately, it's not included here, but most of the other previously released bonus features are. And Disney, who had experimented on the 40th with an enhanced home theater soundtrack, went back to a basic Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround with this release. Those are the major, noticeable differences. As for the film itself, I can't tell any difference between the 40th Anniversary DVD and this one. So if you already own this film, you're probably not going to want to upgrade. And if you don't? Why not???

"Mary Poppins" earned thirteen Academy Award nominations and won for Best Actress, Best Special Visual Effects, Best Film Editing, Best Original Song ("Chim Chim-Cheree"), and Best Original Score. It was a blockbuster film in every sense of the word, producing long lines at the theaters and delighting both critics and audiences. Soon everybody knew about the magical nanny who, like Peter Pan, flew into London circa the early 1900s when children were in need of help. This time it's Jane and Michael Banks (Karen Dotrice and Matthew Garber), who have driven off every nanny so far. Their parents (David Tomlinson and Glynis Johns) are a banker and a suffragette so caught up with their own lives that they've left the raising of the children to nannies and housekeepers. It's left to Mary Poppins and her chimneysweep/street artist friend Bert (Dick Van Dyke) to show them how to cut loose and enjoy life--a lesson eventually learned as well by the parents.

In his review, John J. Puccio gave "Mary Poppins" a 10, and I'd be inclined to join him if only two segments didn't go on too long. The chimneysweep dance number approaches 15 minutes (which is unheard of today), and a sequence in which Mary, Bert, and the children enter the world of a sidewalk painting feels twice that long. But the magic is still maintained throughout most of this 139-minute classic, and like "The Wizard of Oz" it remains one of the biggest family movies of all-time. The story is timeless, the conflicts and lessons are universal, and Andrews, Van Dyke, and the Sherman brothers wow us in almost every scene.

As I said, it looks as if Disney went with the same video presentation as on the 40th Anniversary release. The film is presented in 1.66:1 aspect ratio and has the same quality picture with only a slight graininess and bright, bold colors. John complained about "minute halos" around live characters in some of the scenes, but unless you're looking for them they don't really stand out as a major (or even minor) annoyance.

It's back to a standard English Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack for this release, after Disney tinkered with an enhanced home theater mix the previous outing. I'd agree with John that the regular Dolby Digital is superior to the enhanced mix, which to my ears sounded muffled on occasion and didn't distribute the sound naturally across the speakers. This 5.1 strikes me as a little cleaner. Additional audio options are French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 and the original 2.0 theatrical mix in English-which, when you play it, you're reminded of how far we've come over the past 50 years of technological advancement.

Disc one features the film, a pop-up trivia track, and a commentary track by Andrews, Van Dyke, Dotrice and the Sherman brothers. There's also a "Disney Song Selection" option that allows you to play all or select one of eight songs, with or without lyrics appearing on-screen.

Disc two offers the 50-minute documentary, "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious: The Making of Mary Poppins" from the 40th Anniversary release. Other carryovers from the 40th Anniversary release are a seven-minute "Movie Magic" special effects featurette, a Dick Van Dyke make-up test, a 23-minute you-are-there reel from the gala world premiere, four still galleries, a live-action/animated short film on "The Cat That Looked at a King" (from Mary Poppins Opens the Door, by P. L. Travers) that's surprisingly engaging, and three musical features: the 17-minute "Magical Music Reunion" (with Andrews, Van Dyke, and Richard Sherman gathered around the piano to share memories and sing), a 20-minute solo reminiscence with Sherman, and the deleted song "Chimpanzoo." There are also two theatrical trailers, three reissue trailers, two original TV spots, and Julie Andrews' premiere greeting.

New to the title is "Mary Poppins: From Page to Stage," a substantial documentary that tells how the Broadway version came to be. Then there's a "Step in Time" performance, with introduction, and that same number available as a downloadable MP3 audio file. Rounding out the stage version features is a Bob Crowley Design Gallery, which allows you to click on costume design, set design, concept art, or set models and then click through brief slideshows of his drawings and models. Ultimate "MP" fans are going to want this version as well, but I can't say that the stage features alone would be enough to tempt me. The documentary feels a little plodding and lacking energy, especially alongside an actual production number. But when you combine most of the 40th Anniversary features with the new stage-related matter, it makes for a substantial package.

Bottom Line:
Everyone associated with this film called it a pinnacle of their career, and that's understandable. "Mary Poppins" remains a wonderful example of a big Hollywood musical that's for the whole family--a wonderful, magical journey, still.


Film Value