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Mary Poppins: 45th Anniversary Edition
January 28, 2009

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.

Mary Poppins cover
Mary Poppins
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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.

Musical Heroes

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 DVD

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.)

11 Responses  
Paul Hammond writes:  

I have been a MP fan since I was little. I played the album to death and could say supercalifragilistic expialidocious backwards and forwards. I have watched it occasionally since, but on a visit to Manhattan I got handed a ticket to the Broadway musical. It took me about 5 minutes to get over not having Julie Andrews in the lead. Besides reliving my childhood favorites I was a amazed by the sheer production values. I highly reccomend it.

 
Brigid writes:  

My dad took me to see Mary Poppins when I was four years old, and I thought it was fantastic. Like you, I had the soundtrack album, although I thought “Feed the Birds” was beautiful and it made me teary. Then I got the books, which I found very disappointing compared to the movie, and I even had a real Mary Poppins doll, complete with umbrella and carpetbag.

We got the DVD when my kids were little, and like you, I was impressed with how slooooow it was compared to what we are used to.

The last time I saw it was also with my dad–he was in an Alzheimer’s unit, and they were playing it one day on the big-screen TV in the rec room. We sat together and watched, munching on watermelon cubes. What I noticed that time was the class sensibility, marked by things like Burt’s accent, and the subtle social commentary. I really enjoyed it, and so did Dad, except the roles had pretty much reversed from the first time we saw it together.

And yeah, “Feed the Birds” is always going to make me tear up now.

 
El Santo writes:  

The bank scenes are what Mary Poppins is all about!

That’s what I took away from my business classes, in any case. That scene where there’s a run on the bank came up in at least two of my classes.

Also, why is every new actress determined not to become the next Julie Andrews? It seems like a helluva honor. I’ll warrant her career will be remembered more fondly than a lot of her contemporaries.

 
Johanna writes:  

Aw, Brigid, what a touching story! Teary.

Santo, one of my favorite recent SNL bits was watching Anne Hathaway do a perfect Julie Andrews.

 
Roger A. writes:  

Great review, KC. I like the fact that you pointed out the real message of the movie. This is not a children’s movie as many would claim, but a family movie. What Disney did with many of his classic movies was make something that was enjoyable for the 8-year-old but equally enjoyable for the adult watching it with them. That’s not easy to do well, but he did it numerous times.

 
Mickey's Magical Christmas: Snowed in at the House of Mouse ยป DVDs Worth Watching writes:  

[…] or or Jafar or Cruella de Ville — all served food and drinks by the penguin waiters from Mary Poppins! Even obscure Disney characters appear, such as Panchito and Jose Carioca (from The Three […]

 
Bedknobs and Broomsticks Special Deal » DVDs Worth Watching writes:  

[…] Broomsticks is available for $7 (list price $30). I know it’s a bargain-basement remake of Mary Poppins, from the voyaging to animated lands to the wacky associates, but I still like […]

 
The Boys: The Sherman Brothers’ Story » DVDs Worth Watching writes:  

[…] won the Best Song Oscar in 1965; the score also won an Oscar and a Grammy) and the other music for Mary Poppins; songs for “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” (the theme song of which got them another Oscar […]

 
Disney to Produce Mary Poppins Documentary “Saving Mr. Banks” » DVDs Worth Watching writes:  

[…] movie will cover how it took Mr. Disney 20 years to get the film rights for Mary Poppins from author Travers and the struggles between the two while the movie was being made, along with a […]

 
Free Saving Mr. Banks eBook on iBooks » DVDs Worth Watching writes:  

[…] a foreword by Richard Sherman, who with his brother Robert wrote the songs for Mary Poppins […]

 
Jingle Bells Disney Video Mashup » DVDs Worth Watching writes:  

[…] found it a fun, festive reminder of just how many great Disney movies there have been, from Mary Poppins to The Muppets, Nightmare Before Christmas to Mickey Mouse and a variety of live-action […]

 

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