|Mary Poppins (40th Anniversary Edition)|
|Written by Paul Lingas|
|Tuesday, 14 December 2004|
This is an incredibly in-depth DVD, the kind only Walt Disney Studios can muster. There are an incredible number of commentaries, featurettes, archival footage items, interviews and more. It just shows how well Disney maintains their films and studio elements. Say what you want about Disney, but they never miss a beat. Winner of five Academy Awards and nominated for eight more, “Mary Poppins” is truly a classic for children of all ages, and it is presented beautifully on this two-disc 40th Anniversary Edition DVD set. I’m rather blown away by this DVD, which captures all of the charm that is “Mary Poppins.”
The year is 1910 and, in an upscale London neighborhood, Mr. and Mrs. George Banks (David Tomlinson and Glynis Johns) are having trouble with their children Michael (Matthew Garber) and Jane (Karen Dotrice). Michael and Jane are in need of a new nanny, but they keep pushing away anyone the Banks’ might hire. Thankfully, Mary Poppins (Julie Andrews) answers the ad for a nanny, and she is just the one to get the Banks children into shape. Mary arrives through the air with the aid of her umbrella and immediately takes the job, to the bewilderment of Mr. Banks and the amazement of the children.
With the help of screever, chimney sweep and general jack-of-all-trades Bert (Dick Van Dyke), Mary and the children go on many wonderful adventures, most of which either combine live action with animation or use various types of movie magic. Most of the events that take place are simply a collection of adventures from the various Mary Poppins books, but there is an overall storyline: Mr. and Mrs. Banks tend to be so swept up in their own affairs that the children sometimes feel neglected. Not only does Mary Poppins help the children, she helps their parents as well. With many famous songs and musical numbers, such as “Spoonful of Sugar,” “Chim Chim Cher-ee” and “Feed the Birds,” “Mary Poppins” is truly a fun and fantastic movie that has long stood as one of the most-seen films of all time. The score and songs are great, and while the lack of a true plot sometimes bogs things down, the inventiveness and general playfulness of the film helps to create an atmosphere of delight. It must be pointed out that this film stands up very well over time, especially with this new, totally remastered transfer.
Looking crisp and clean, with an all-new 5.1 mix and an optimized stereo mix, there is nary a scratch or blemish in the print, and the crispness and clarity makes it seem as though it were filmed four years ago, not 40. One unfortunate side effect is that the transfer reveals the color and contrast limitations of the 1964 film stock, which tends to mute certain colors and has too much yellow in it. This has the effect of making certain darker colors seem brownish, and it is most noticeable in the faces of the actors at certain moments. You can really see how much they’ve cleaned up the print when viewing any one of the unenhanced eight trailers that are included in the DVD. The color on the feature is better, the picture is crisper and there is no dust polluting the frame. The new sound mix is truly sweet in that many elements that are indiscernible in the original stereo mix (which is also included) are now sweetened in the new mix. Two examples are various lines of dialogue that were originally so subtle that they were masked, and ambiences that help to create a better sense of place, especially when the action takes place outside. As the entire film was shot on interior soundstages, the need to create outdoor ambience is vital to selling the outdoor sequences.
Besides the fine clean-up of the print and sound, this DVD gets a high overall rating because of its remarkably extensive collection of bonus features, which total more than three hours, not bad for a 1964 production. The “Musical Reunion” is charming, where co-composer Richard Sherman (who did the score in tandem with brother Robert) and actors Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke discuss the genesis and realization of many of the songs of “Mary Poppins.” One example is the birth of “Spoonful of Sugar,” which came about because Andrews had requested a more upbeat song than the one that had originally been composed for the room-cleaning sequence. The “Musical Journey with Richard Sherman” focuses not only on the music that appears in the film, but on many of the songs and much of the music that did not make it into the final film. Sherman discusses the reasoning behind much of the score and also the reasons for leaving certain parts out.
This has one of the most extensive art galleries of any DVD I have ever seen, much less one for a 40-year-old movie. Everything from production art, preproduction drawings and paintings, behind-the-scenes photos, premiere photos and more are included. Also featured are a set-top trivia game and the short animated film “The Cat That Looked at a King,” which features the voices of Andrews, David Ogden Stiers, Sarah Ferguson and Tracey Ullman.
The Gala Premiere footage is absolutely incredible, cobbled together from color and black and white footage from the Los Angeles “Mary Poppins” premiere at Grauman’s Chinese Theater and the after party. The footage is absolutely pristine, making one feel as if one is watching television in 1964. It’s great to see these big stars almost in the flesh, from what at the time was a live television event. We’re so used these days to seeing celebrities in interviews and live events that this accentuates the fact that we don’t think of older actors and films in these ways. They even have footage of P.L. Travers, the author of the Mary Poppins books, and of course, Walt Disney, Andrews and Van Dyke.
“Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious: The Making of ‘Mary Poppins’” is a 50-minute documentary that includes all new interviews with Andrews, Van Dyke and many others. It provides an incredibly in-depth look at the acquisition of the rights to “Mary Poppins,” the casting, production and post-production. It utilizes both current and past interviews, as well as archival footage and photos. This is one of the best documentaries I have ever seen in terms of content, editing and thematic strength.
Also included are three short featurettes about the visual effects of “Mary Poppins,” as well as breakdowns of two of the song and dance sequences. These latter two play the full sequence, but use animation elements, including preliminary sketches and the final full color plates, the original live-action shots and separate effects elements. The different elements cut in and out, along with the full final completed elements. The result is an intriguing look at all of the bits and pieces that went into these creative sequences. What’s ingenious about the way it’s presented is that one may see all of the elements without having to watch each plate all the way through, which is too time-consuming for most people.
Due to Disney’s penchant for releasing its films on DVD for only a limited time, my advice is to run to your local store and pick up a copy of this edition of “Mary Poppins,” which will not only exceed your expectations of what a DVD should contain, but will also give you an excellent family film that is still quite accessible at 40 years of age.