Review by KC Carlson
After our recent trip to Walt Disney World in December, Johanna and I have been immersing ourselves in all things Disney, catching up with old favorites and in a few cases seeing things for the first time. Among some of the things that were new-to-me were a bunch of Disney’s fabled part-live action, part-animated features, including The Three Caballeros and Bedknobs and Broomsticks (caught on TCMs excellent live-action Disney festival in December). They were just the warm-up for Disney’s crown jewel of the format: 1964’s Mary Poppins.
My History With Mary
Mary Poppins was most likely the first feature-length movie I ever saw in a theater (or at least the first one I have strong memories of). I was 8 years old. I loved it. I’m fairly sure that mom took me back for at least two additional viewings. I also owned the soundtrack album, and I played it over and over on my little record player until there were no more grooves left.
But the odd thing was, I never saw the movie again. Never saw any of the theatrical re-releases. Never saw it on TV (except maybe for a few minutes during a holiday airing when I lived in NYC). Never bought it on home video, in any format. Apparently, I “grew out” of it and never looked back.
So when we were told that Disney was providing a review copy of the latest DVD re-issue, I couldn’t wait for it to arrive. And when we watched it, I was floored. I had totally missed the main point of the movie! You know, the one about not being obsessed with work and taking the time to look at the small personal joys of life and paying more attention to your family and friends. Yeah, that one.
It’s So Slooooow
When I was 8, I was so completely bored with the whole “Feed the Birds” segment of the movie. I’m sure that I didn’t cause a ruckus, but I was probably squirming in my seat, and my brain was probably going “C’mon, c’mon… go back to the penguins!” I am sure that every time I played the soundtrack album, as soon as “Feed the Birds” started, I would carefully pick up the needle and move it to “Chim Chim Cheree”. I didn’t necessarily hate the song… it was just so slow! Okay, I did hate the chorale background of the song. Still do.
As an 8-year-old, I also thought that the scenes in the bank were pretty slow-moving, too, especially the equally slow-moving old Mr. Dawes, Sr. Little did I know that he was actually played by my hero in the movie – Dick Van Dyke – being 8 and, well, being stupid. I guess my 8-year-old self can be forgiven a bit, distracted as I was by frantically dancing chimney sweeps, nannies flying around via magic talking umbrella, robot birds, merry-go-round horses running amuck, bottomless carpetbags, crazy people shooting cannons in residential London, unforgettable nonsense words, bottles that dispense medicine of many different colors, and obviously insane people floating in mid-air because they’re laughing. Oh, and the penguin waiters. Mustn’t forget them.
And the songs are wonderful (except for that tedious “Feed the Birds.” Harrumph.). The Sherman Brothers were the first songwriters I started to track, checking other Disney records and reading the songwriting credits for their songs. There weren’t many – yet – since Mary Poppins was their first major work for Disney. But they did write “It’s a Small World (After All)” and “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” for Disney at the 1964 NY World Fair and contributed songs to The Parent Trap, Summer Magic, and The Sword and the Stone prior to Poppins and many, many other features for Disney afterward. They also wrote the songs for another non-Disney children’s classic, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
(“It’s a Small World (After All)” may be the world’s most played song ever. If you don’t believe me, go to one of the Disney theme parks and ride the It’s a Small World ride several times. C’mon… I dare ya.)
The Sherman Brothers were my musical heroes long before I started paying attention to Lennon & McCartney, Goffin & King, Dylan, Wilson, or Townshend. I am having great fun getting reacquainted with their work after too much time away.
As an adult, and especially one who’s most likely past the mid-point of my life, I have a much greater appreciation for this film than I did at the beginning of it. I even like “Feed the Birds” now that I can appreciate what it really is about.Mary Poppins is not only a “must see” movie — it’s a “must see again” film, especially if you haven’t seen it since you were a kid. It is beyond magical. There’s a reason why Julie Andrews won a Best Actress Oscar for her performance. And also a reason why it has never been out of print (unlike other Disney classics) during the home-video era.
The 45th Anniversary Edition of Mary Poppins is almost exactly like the 40th Anniversary Edition, with the exception of some new Disney On Broadway material based around the Mary Poppins stage show. Mary Poppins: From Stage to Page is a quite frankly too long (about an hour) documentary about developing the movie into a stage show. There is admittedly a lot of ground to cover, but parts of the doc feel like “contractual obligations” due to the extremely complicated rights issues over the original music, new music by other writers, and the need to discuss differences between the original P.L. Travers book, the Disney movie, the original London show, and the current Broadway production. There are a lot of people involved with the production who deserve screen time here. It’s interesting to note that the two leads of the Broadway performance seen here — Ashley Brown and Gavin Lee — have left the show and will be reprising their roles for the U.S. tour of the show, beginning March 25, 2009.
The other brand-new Broadway-centric material on the DVD is the show-stopping “Step in Time” musical number (also available as a mp3 download) and a gallery of set and costume designer Bob Crowley’s designs.
Other DVD extras include a fascinating documentary about the making of the movie, featuring a lot of behind-the scenes footage and 2004 updates by Andrews, Van Dyke, Karen Dotrice (Jane Banks, the daughter), Glynis Johns (Mrs. Banks), Richard Sherman, and many others; features on the World Premiere (Walt showed up with both his wife and Snow White!); a featurette on special effects in the film; multiple docs on the music in the movie, including a discussion on songs that were dropped from the film; a feature-length commentary by Andrews, Van Dyke, Dotrice, and the Sherman Brothers; Poppins pop-up fun facts; Disney’s Song Selection; and a 2004 live-action and animated featurette “The Cat That Looked at a King” based on a Mary Poppins short story by Travers and narrated by Andrews that is more than it seems (watch carefully!). All of these special features were also on the 2004 Mary Poppins DVD.
Find out more at the official DVD site. CNN has interviewed Dick Van Dyke about the movie. (A complimentary copy for this review was provided by the studio.)