It's probably been a good thirty years since I've seen Mary Poppins but when I sat down to watch the brand new DVD release, it was as if I had seen it yesterday. Familiar characters, familiar music, it was like spending time with an old friend -- only better. As a child, I didn't have a full appreciation for the spectacular spectacle that is Mary Poppins but I appreciate it now, like never before.
Mary Poppins is the story of the Banks family who live in London in the early 1900's. Mr. Banks is a banker and he runs his house with clockwork efficiency. No time for fun, frivolity, or his children, Jane and Michael. Mrs. Banks is also very wrapped up outside the home with her crusade to gain women the vote. As a result, the children are cared for by a series of nannys, none of whom can cut it until Mary comes along. Though stern and buttoned up on the outside, Mary is as loving can be on the inside and she uses songs and magic to teach the children, and their parents, a lesson or two.
What's truly amazing about this movie is how relevant it is today, perhaps even more so then it was when it was released in 1964; parents so caught up in work and activities, children being raised by caregivers in place of relatives. Mr. Banks is like most fathers today, working hard with hopes of giving his family a better life and then there's Mrs. Banks crusading for her daughter's future. They mean well, but it's not what's best for the children. Don't get me wrong, though there is a message in the movie, that's not the purpose at all. The purpose is pure enjoyment and that's what you'll get from every bar of music and every tapping toe.
Songs such as A Spoon Full of Sugar, Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, and Chim Chim Cheree have become Disney standards but there's also the hauntingly beautiful Feed the Birds, the fast-paced dance number Step in Time and there's nothing better than a Jolly Holiday with Mary which features a carousel horse race and tea with a gaggle of penguins!
What's truly amazing about this film is the level of special effect work given that it was made in the '60s. Green screens allow Julie Andrews and her friends to jump into a chalk sidewalk painting, wire work allows them to have a tea party in mid-air and combined animation with live action gives them a chance to dance with animals of all kinds. The movie also features an animatronic bird, a talking umbrella handle, full length hat racks out of small carpet bags and a fantastic ride UP the chimney for a view of the chimney sweeps world.
The most amazing effect, really isn't an effect at all but the fact that the movie was shot on a soundstage in Burbank and not in London. The scope of the street scenes is incredible, the attention to detail and the colors, it's truly a magical place.
If you don't own Mary Poppins of DVD, now's your chance to pick up the fully packed 45th Anniversary edition. It hits the stores today and it's loaded with great extras including nearly a full hour of features devoted to the Mary Poppins musical on Broadway. And what a nice addition this is. You'll go from Page to Stage as the creative team and the cast prepare for their upcoming North American tour. You'll get a close look at the show's scenic design and costumes and you'll see the cast performing Step in Time on stage.
If that wasn't enough, this DVD also features audio commentary from stars Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke and Karen Dotrice (a very grown-up Jane Banks). The actors and the crew also offer their thoughts throughout an extended behind-the-scenes featurette and you'll get a closer look at the special effects that make Mary Poppins so magical.
My favorite feature on the DVD is the footage from the Gala World Premiere. The red carpet arrivals were filmed for TV but the film had been lost for many years. Pieces of the film have recently been found in two countries and these were edited back together to form this wonderful featurette. You'll see not only the stars of this movie, but many members of the Disney family arriving at Grauman's Chinese theater all decked out in their 1960's finery. It's a really rare treat.
Mary Poppins: The 45th Anniversary Edition is a great movie to add to your collection whether you have young children or not. People of all ages will appreciate the charming story, the classic Disney soundtrack and the performances of Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke and a whole host of recognizable character actors. The Walt Disney company makes liberal use of the word 'magic' in all of their advertising but in the case of Mary Poppins no other word will do.
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