When Judge William Lee pulled his pants down and danced like a penguin, it wasn't a great family film moment.
Oh, it's a jolly holiday with Mary.
Everyone's favorite magical nanny lands on home video once again in Mary Poppins: 45th Anniversary Edition, marking the movie's fourth Region 1 DVD appearance since 1998. Repackaging almost all of the extensive supplemental materials from the two-disc 40th Anniversary Edition, this new set would be a completely unnecessary reissue were it not for Disney's spin-off enterprises. The successful Broadway production Mary Poppins: The Musical begins its tour across the United States in 2009 and that's the real reason for this timely bit of cross-promotion.
If you aren't already familiar with the story of Mary Poppins, you either grew up without a television, or you were never young. That means you've never been charmed by one of the best Walt Disney films ever. You haven't marveled at the animation so wonderfully integrated with live action using pre-computer age craft. Those instantly memorable songs have never replayed in your head non-stop for a whole day. You haven't been enchanted by Julie Andrews, absolutely perfect in her first screen role. You haven't experienced the joy of seeing Dick Van Dyke—a gifted, natural entertainer—adorably mangling his Cockney accent between numerous showstopping dance sequences. If that's the case, I know a movie that will melt your cold heart.
Facts of the Case
After young Jane and Michael Banks lose another nanny, Mary Poppins (Julie Andrews, Enchanted) floats in on the east wind to land in front of their London home at 17 Cherry Tree Lane. Mary takes the children on a series of magical adventures—often encountering jack-of-all-trades Bert (Dick Van Dyke, Night at the Museum)—which teach them responsibility and compassion. Eventually, their busy parents come to realize they need to be involved with their children's lives, in order to have a happy family.
The first disc of this set contains the movie in a beautifully clean transfer with vibrant colors. The audio is available in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround in your choice of English, French or Spanish. The original 2.0 Stereo mix is available in English only. The original stereo soundtrack is strong and really brought back the feeling of watching the movie on the Wonderful World of Disney on a Sunday night during my childhood. Hearing those great songs fill the room in an excellent surround mix is a joyous experience that makes the movie fresh again. The previous edition also had a Disney Enhanced Audio option which is not offered this time around. English, French, and Spanish subtitles are available in two options: all dialogue or song lyrics only.
The movie is accompanied by a very good audio commentary assembled from different sources. Andrews, Van Dyke, Karen Dotrice, and composers-songwriters Richard and Robert Sherman share many fond memories of the production. The commentary track is also subtitled in English, French, and Spanish.
If you can't get enough Mary Poppins trivia, you can enable the "Poppins Pop-Up Fun Facts" and short information nuggets will display in a window periodically over the course of the movie. The text is available in the same three language options. Along with "Disney's Song Selection," an option to skip to the songs from an indexed list, these are all features identical to the previous DVD release.
The new supplemental material concerning the theatrical incarnation of Mary Poppins is contained under the "Disney on Broadway" section of the second disc. Mary Poppins: The Musical premiered in the U.K. in September 2004 and ran for more than three years. It debuted on Broadway in November 2006. There are more than a spoonful of extras on this DVD designed to get you excited about the upcoming touring production and they're all given a handsome 1.78:1 anamorphic presentation.
With a running time of 48-minutes, the featurette "From Page to Stage" tells the story of the show's development through interviews with some of its principal creative people. In New York, Thomas Schumacher, producer of Mary Poppins: The Musical and president of Disney Theatrical Productions, chats with Ashley Brown and Gavin Lee, who play Mary and Bert respectively. In a separate interview, British theatrical producer Cameron Mackintosh discusses the long journey of the show's development starting with his negotiations with author Pamela Travers. In France, composer George Stiles and lyricist Anthony Drewe talk about the creation of new songs for the theatrical show. They also engage with original songwriter Richard Sherman via telephone (and split screen). From backstage, set and costume designer Bob Crowley takes viewers on a tour of the physical elements of the production.
"From Page to Stage" functions adequately both as a documentary and promotional piece for the stage production, though it suffers from sluggish pacing. Early on, a lot of time is spent listening to Mackintosh, Stiles and Drewe talk about the challenges they faced during the early development of the show and there is a long wait before we see anything of the actual production. Rather than building anticipation for a glimpse of the show, the lengthy teasing made me impatient. The few glimpses of the show we do get along the way are still photos of rehearsals. Schumacher's meeting with the cast members at Sardi's Restaurant is supposed to be a casual conversation but it feels less than spontaneous. Brown and Lee dutifully smile and field Schumacher's questions but you soon get the feeling they've covered these talking points a thousand times before.
In the lengthy featurette, only passing reference is made to the original London production and it seems like there is a reluctance to show much from the current one. Viewers' patience is finally rewarded with breakdowns of two songs: "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" and "Step in Time." Hearing and seeing these familiar songs reworked for the stage gives a better sense of what the new show will be like.
In a separate seven-minute featurette, the "Step in Time" number is performed on the theater stage. We hear, but don't see, the audience so I suspect this number was staged for the cameras and the audience reaction was added for effect. If it wasn't an actual live performance, I'm not complaining, since it is nice to see the entire choreographed sequence with all the best angles covered. A downloadable MP3 file of "Step in Time" from the stage musical is also included on the DVD.
The other new supplement on the disc is "Bob Crowley's Design Gallery" showcasing the costumes and scenic artwork of the show. Crowley provides a short video introduction and the gallery is presented as a series of still frames. Especially interesting is the Banks family house, which rotates, unfolds and transforms on the stage to accommodate a few different settings. Crowley also talks about this scenic element in the longer featurette where it benefits by being animated on screen.
There are two extras from the 40th Anniversary Edition that do not appear here. The "I Love to Laugh" Set Top Trivia Game has been omitted, as has "Deconstruction of a Scene," which dissected the different filmed elements and visual effects of the "Jolly Holiday" and "Step in Time" sequences.
The rest of the abundant extras from five years earlier are replicated for this 45th Anniversary Edition. The best of those—and still the meatiest—is the 51-minute "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious: The Making of Mary Poppins." With plenty of interviews and behind the scenes footage, it is an immensely informative and satisfying look at the art and craft behind the movie.
Readers can refer to Chief Justice Michael Stailey's review of the 40th Anniversary Edition for his thorough itemizing of the extras that originally appeared there. Fans will be happy with either version, for the wealth of archival clips, publicity materials, and various featurettes—including a reunion with Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke, and Richard Sherman; and a bonus animated short that adapts Pamela Travers's Mary Poppins Opens the Door—that will reinforce their love for this great family film.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The new supplemental material, in and of itself, is not enough reason to pick up this new edition of Mary Poppins. However, being nearly identical to the previous edition, this is still an excellent two-disc set of a much-beloved movie. If you missed the opportunity to pick it up five years ago, or know someone who doesn't have it yet, this movie is a must-have in every family's DVD collection.
This is surely a DVD reissue no one was clamoring for, and those who already own the 40th Anniversary Edition have no reason to replace it. This new edition exists solely to promote and cash-in on the upcoming tour of the stage musical. Fans of Mary Poppins: The Musical and appreciators of big Broadway musicals in general will enjoy the peek behind the curtain to see how it came together. Others might see the musical as a curious incarnation of familiar characters and situations.
This DVD feels unnecessary, but it's still practically perfect in every way.
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