Thursday, January 2, 2014

Mary Poppins: 50th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray Review

Reviewed by Sean Ferguson
mary-160x160Releasing from the Disney Vault in celebration of its 50th Anniversary, creative visionary Walt Disney’s classic shines for the first time on Blu-ray.  Starring Dick Van Dyke and Julie Andrews in her Academy-Award winning role, and featuring iconic toe-tapping songs including “A Spoonful of Sugar” and  the much loved “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” Mary Poppins is a movie experience your family will enjoy again and again.  An all-new digital restoration adds even more magic – helping bring the award-winning songs and amazing picture to life like never before.  Share the music; share the magic; share the joy of Mary Poppins this holiday on Blu-ray Combo Pack & HD Digital for the first time.  Julie Andrews (The Sound of Music, Princess Diaries) as Mary Poppins; Dick Van Dyke (TV’s “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” Night at the Museum) as Bert/Mr. Dawes Senior; David Tomlinson (Bedknobs and Broomsticks, The Love Bug) as Mr. Banks; Glynis Johns (The Court Jester, While You Were Sleeping) as Mrs. Banks; Karen Dotrice (The Gnome-Mobile, Upstairs, Downstairs) as Jane Banks; Mathew Garber (The Gnome-Mobile, The Three Lives of Thomasina) as Michael Banks.
Mary Poppins.

Film (5 out of 5 stars) 

Out of all the great films that Disney has released (both animated and live action), there’s only one movie that was nominated for thirteen Academy Award nominations (including Best Picture) and won five, including Best Actress for Andrews, Best Film Editing, Original Music Score, Best Visual Effects, and Best Original Song for “Chim Chim Cher-ee,” and that film is Mary Poppins.  That incredible record has yet to be beaten and it’s unlikely that another will since Mary Poppins is a one of a kind film that is pure magic.  The combination of P.L. Travers story, the musical genius of the Sherman Brothers, the artistry of the Disney animators and live action crews, the expert direction of Robert Stevenson, and last but not least, the best cast possible for these roles.
It wasn’t an easy task for Walt Disney to pull off, in fact there’s now even a movie (Saving Mr. Banks) that details the difficulties he faced in obtaining the rights to make the movie from P.L. Travers.  It took twenty years but Disney finally charmed her enough to make the movie.  Some changes needed to be made however as Disney wanted to soften the persona of Mary Poppins who in the books is fairly strict and unloving.  He also wanted songs from the Sherman Brothers, a concept that Travers was unhappy about.  Characters were also eliminated or combined to whittle the story down to a feature length time.  All in all, the development of the film and its songs took two years to complete before it was grudgingly approved by Travers who had continued to make demands throughout.
The story focuses on a dysfunctional family led by by the distant George Banks (David Tomlinson), his flighty wife Winifred (Glynis Johns), and their mischievous children, Jane (Karen Dotrice) and Michael (Matthew Garber).  George’s main focus in life is his job at the Dawes Tomes Mousley Grubbs Fidelity Fiduciary Bank at the expense of his family.  He barely tolerates his children and even his wife has been left emotionally bereft.  It’s not that he doesn’t care about them, but his is so wrapped up thinking about how he thinks life should be (which includes having his slippers, sherry, and his pipe waiting for him as soon as he gets home), that he isn’t focused on the life he already has.  Winifred isn’t much better as she spends her days campaigning for women to get the right to vote even though George is completely against it.  That leaves Jane and Michael without any parental supervision or involvement in their lives.  Instead, they keep getting a succession of nannies to watch them in their parents’ absence, all of whom are scared off by the children acting up.
George is so upset at the revolving door of maids that he decides that he will hire the next one. Little does he know that there’s only one choice as the magical Mary Poppins (Julie Andrews) literally blows every other candidate away with a huge gust of wind and then takes the job before George can say no.  The children don’t know what to make of her either but they warm up to her quickly after she shows them how to find the fun in cleaning their room with a little magic.  And that’s just the start as Mary Poppins introduces the children into more magical adventures with her good friend Bert (Dick Van Dyke) where they they jump through sidewalk art to visit penguins and join horse race and a fox hunt before dancing on the rooftops of London with a small army of Bert’s chimney sweeping friends.
Of course, all of the whimsical fun doesn’t sit well with George Banks who doesn’t want his children jumping into paintings or running around saying “superfragilisticexpialidocious” all of the time. Mary Poppins not only makes the motions of being completely sympathetic, but she also subtly suggests that they children should follow their father’s lead and before he knows it, George believes that it was his idea to take his children with him to work and to spend time with them. That of course doesn’t go well, as for the first time, George can see the soullessness and greed of his fellow bank directors who try to steal Michael’s money for the bank.  The ancient bank director Mr. Dawes (Dick Van Dyke again) is furious and George’s precious job is put on the line and he will finally have to decide what’s most important to him and which life he wants to lead.
Mary Poppins is my all time favorite Disney live action film and I am so happy that it’s finally out on Blu-ray.  I love the deceptively simple story as it has many different layers available for multigenerational viewing.  When I was a kid, I was captivated by the magical aspects of the story and I loved the catchy songs.  As I’ve grown older, I can now appreciate how Mary Poppins didn’t come to save the children, but the entire family especially George and Winifred Banks.  Both of them are self-absorbed in different ways and because of that, the family is no longer close and the children have been left to fend for themselves.  There’s no “bad guy” in the movie because despite their flaws, both George and Winifred love their children but they’ve just forgotten what’s really important in life due to each of their own pursuits.
I wish they made more family movies like this today but even if they did, this movie is one of a kind and couldn’t be duplicated.  The cast is perfect, the songs are collectively the best that Sherman Brothers ever wrote, and this movie has the unmistakable magical imprint of Walt Disney all over it. It also has some of the best dance choreography I’ve seen and the amount of imagination on display across the board is very impressive.  This year has not only marked the Blu-ray debut of the film, but also it’s entry into the the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant,” which will preserve the film for future generations which is about the happiest ending that I can think of.

mp_ks12Video (4 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

Disney’s 1080p (1.66:1) transfer of Mary Poppins has been remastered and it looks fantastic.  I’ve gotten used to praising Disney’s transfers for the most part, but I haven’t seen them release too many of their older movies so it’s nice to see that they can do wonders with movies from the sixties too.  This is such a colorful movie that I’m glad that the colors now jump off the screen, especially when Mary, Bert, and the children jump into the paintings and venture into the animated world. There’s a lot of detail present too and the flesh tones are natural looking.  Black levels are solid and deep and there’s not a hint of noise or other issues to detract from the overall experience.   It’s obvious that Disney has put a lot of love and care into this restoration of one of their crown jewels of the Disney canon.

Mary-PoppinsAudio (4 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

Mary Poppins’ new DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix is quite a step up from the previous versions but I think in their effort to remain true to the original sound design, Disney didn’t fully utilize this lossless 7.1 mix to its full potential.  That’s not to say that this isn’t a fantastic mix though because this is the best I’ve heard the movie.  The dialogue is crystal clear and well balanced with the songs without them drowning out the lines.  The amazing music by Richard and Robert Sherman has never sounded better than it does now.  The rear channels don’t get used too often, but when they are, the cross channel activity is accurate and adds a lot of fun to the scenes.  This is probably the best mix we will ever get for this movie and I’m okay with that as this one sounds very good for a movie that’s fifty years old.

mp_ks15Extras (5 out of 5 stars) 

This is another jam packed edition from Disney that includes all of the fantastic extras from previous editions along with a collection of new extras that have been added for synergy for the company’s other Mary Poppins related ventures like the Broadway play based on the movie and their new film Saving Mr. Banks.  The new extras are in high definition.
  • Becoming Mr. Sherman - It shouldn’t come as a surprise that there is a tie-in to Saving Mr. Banks, which tells the story of how Mary Poppins was made into a movie and the struggle it for Walt Disney to get the rights from author P.L. Travers.  During this fourteen minute featurette includes a discussion between composer Richard Sherman and the actor who plays him in the movie, Jason Schwartzman who sit down at a piano together and talk about Mary Poppins and P.L. Travers.  Sherman candidly talks about how difficult it was to deal with Travers and how she treated him and his brother Robert.  He also talks about how watching the filming of the movie was emotional for him and offers his praise of his portrayal in the movie. 
  • Mary-Oke - You can sing along with these awesome songs with some onscreen lyrics that bounce all over the screen.  While I applaud Disney trying to do something new with onscreen lyrics, I have to say that they way that they did this makes it really hard to sing along with the film.  My son tried his best but it’s practically impossible to do the they way they’re presented.  The songs you can sing along with by memory are: “A Spoonful of Sugar,” “Step in Time,” ”Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” and “Chim Chim Cher-ee.” 
  • Classic DVD Bonus Features: This Blu-ray edition of Mary Poppins includes just about every previous extra that was included on the previous editions.  Those include:
    • Audio Commentary - We get a very fun commentary with Dick Van Dyke, Julie Andrews, Richard and Robert Sherman, and Karen Dotrice where they talk about making the film and the challenges that entailed.  I’m always ready to hear anything from Dick Van Dyke and Julie Andrews as they are among my favorite actors, so I may be biased but I really enjoyed this commentary.  It seems like this overall commentary is made up of several different recordings that have been combined into this excellent version. I’m just glad that Van Dyke and Andrews did theirs together because they are so perfect together.
    • Disney on Broadway - In another perfect example of synergy, Disney has also included an almost hour long look into how the movies was translated into a Broadway play in the documentary “Mary Poppins From Page to Stage.”   We hear from the President of Disney Theatrical Productions Thomas Schumacher and Ashley Brown (who plays Mary Poppins) and Gavin Lee (who plays Bert)  as well as a seven minute featurette, “Step in Time,” with Broadway composer George Stiles.
    • Backstage Disney - Now we come to the extras that really interested me that were focused on the making of the film itself.  At almost two hours long all together, these featurettes cover just about everything you need to know about the making of the film.  It’s broken up into eight different featurettes that include:  Eight additional the 51-minute documentary “The Making of Mary Poppins,” “The Gala World Premiere” and “The Gala World Premiere Party,” “Movie Magic,” “Deconstruction of a Scene” featurettes (featuring two scenes: “Jolly Holiday” and “Step in Time”), a “Dick Van Dyke Make-Up Test,” and a look at the film’s “Publicity” that includes trailers, the re-issue trailers, and TV spots.
    • Music & More - As it should, this disc also includes a focus on the film’s music with four different music related extras that include:”A Magical Musical Reunion Featuring Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke and Richard Sherman,” which is a lot of fun, a deleted song “Chimpanzoo”, a “Disney Song Selection” suite, and a “Movie Sing-Along” track that works a lot better than the new one.
    • The Cat that Looked at a King - In this 2004 unofficial mini sequel, Julie Andrews takes two children into a chalk drawing once again to tell them the story about a talking cat in this blend of live action and animation. 

Summary (5 out of 5 stars) 

It doesn’t get any better than this folks so if you enjoy fun movies with a lot of heart and some incredible toe tapping music, then this is the film for you.  Every part is perfectly cast and there’s a reason that the film was nominated for thirteen Academy Awards (and also why it’s #3 on my list of the top ten Blu-rays for this year).  For my money, this is the best Disney live action movie they ever made and this new 50th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray is a worthy tribute to the film as it offers some great video and audio quality and the extras are amazing.  This is one of those movies that can help you judge friendships on because if they don’t like it you may have to rethink your association with them!  All joking aside, this Blu-ray is highly recommended!
Order your copy today!
Mary Poppins 50 BD art

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