Judge Clark Douglas can only stay until the wind changes.
"Wanted: a nanny for two adorable children."
Facts of the Case
The Banks family is searching for a new nanny. Young Jane (Karen Dotrice, The Gnome-Mobile) and Michael (Matthew Garber, The Three Lives of Thomasina) have developed an unfortunate habit of scaring off the nannies their father (David Tomlinson, Bedknobs and Broomsticks) has hired. At long last, salvation arrives in the form of Mary Poppins (Julie Andrews, Victor/Victoria), who has the willpower, wisdom and, uh, magical abilities required to curb Jane and Michael's bad behavior.
Eventually, Mary introduces the children to Bert (Dick Van Dyke, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang), a fun loving chimney sweep who has a knack for tapping into Mary's fun-loving side. It isn't long before Bert is guiding Mary and the children on a variety of whimsical adventures, from encounters with dancing animated penguins to giddy joke-telling sessions with the fun-loving Uncle Albert (Ed Wynn, The Absent-Minded Professor).
Alas, things turn serious again when Michael accidentally inspires a run on the bank where Mr. Banks works. The children worry that they've done permanent damage to their relationship with their father and wonder whether he'll be able to recover from this professional blow. Have they finally encountered a problem too big for Mary Poppins to solve?
There's plenty of reason to feel cynical about this Blu-ray release, honestly. It's timed to coincide with the theatrical release of Disney's Saving Mr. Banks (which offers a Disneyfied look at the behind-the-scenes battles that took place between Walt Disney himself and Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers), which in turn is timed to coincide with Mary Poppins' fiftieth anniversary. Plus, the biggest new supplement on this Blu-ray release is a bonus feature designed to remind people about the existence of Saving Mr. Banks. It's all one big marketing loop-de-loop, with each product nudging consumers in the direction of the other while the executives at Disney smoke cigars and count their cash.
That's one way to look at it, anyway. The other way is to observe that Saving Mr. Banks is a good film, that Mary Poppins is a great one and that it's a treat to finally have the latter available on Blu-ray. It's unquestionably one of the great musicals of the 1960s (absolutely deserving of a place alongside such gems as The Sound of Music and My Fair Lady), and arguably Disney's finest live-action achievement. Yes, Travers ultimately disliked the film and felt it was a betrayal of her work. Those who grew up with her novels have plenty of reason to feel that this Mary is a softened, sugar-coated version of the much sterner character from the books, but the movie works so beautifully on its own terms.
The merits of the film have already been covered quite thoroughly by Judges Michael Stailey and William Lee, so there isn't much I can say that hasn't already been said. Truthfully, this is one of the few films that I have no way of seeing objectively. I watched Mary Poppins so many times as a youngster, and it just takes a few bars of "Feed the Birds" or "A Spoonful of Sugar" to trigger my nostalgia. Everything here is just so endlessly charming, the sort of magical, feel-good whirlwind that only Disney can pull off. Are the actors good? Of course they are (especially the great Julie Andrews), but I've seen this movie so many times that it's difficult to imagine any of the characters being played any other way. I can't even criticize Dick Van Dyke's ridiculous British accent—the way he pronounces each syllable in his portion of "Let's Go Fly a Kite" is permanently etched in my memory. The movie never fails to bring a smile to my face, and I'm always a bit misty-eyed during the more emotionally gripping moments of the film's third act.
For all the laughter, bright imagery, cheerful tunes and general mayhem the movie has to offer, there's a great deal of bittersweet melancholy running beneath the surface. The movie often finds itself existing in a place located directly between elation and sorrow, and those scenes have a way of resonating with viewers of all ages. Despite my aforementioned lack of objectivity, it's worth noting that there are many other films I loved as a child that I now find boring or simply…well, childish. Mary Poppins has never lost an ounce of its magic.
Mary Poppins (Blu-ray) flies onto Blu-ray sporting a beautiful 1080p/1.66:1 transfer. The colors are bright and vibrant, but never garish—the film has a certain understated beauty in contrast to many family films of yesteryear (or today, for that matter). Hi-def certainly makes a number of the film's special effects shots more obvious, but that's a matter built into the source material. Detail is tremendous throughout, depth is strong and flesh tones look natural. There's a moderate amount of grain present throughout, but it's always well-balanced and lends the film an appealing, natural warmth. The DTS HD 7.1 Master Audio track is strong, though obviously this isn't going to deliver an aural knockout on the level of, say, a Lord of the Rings film. Dialogue is clear, bits and pieces of sound design are well-captured (though front-heavy) and the music simply soars. Well done on all counts.
The supplemental package doesn't offer a ton of new stuff, but honestly the existing material was strong enough to make that a relatively insignificant complaint. First off, you get the 15-minute featurette "Becoming Mr. Sherman," in which actor Jason Schwartzman (who plays Richard Sherman in Saving Mr. Banks) sits down with the real Sherman to talk about the creation of the music. You also get a behind-the-scenes look at Saving Mr. Banks, of course. The only other new feature is a handful of karaoke sing-a-longs, which I suppose youngsters may enjoy. Such features seem ubiquitous on Disney musical releases these days.
Elsewhere, it's the same old stuff we've reviewed on this site before: an audio commentary with the Sherman brothers, Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke and Karen Dotrice, two documentaries (the 48-minute "Mary Poppins: From Page to Stage," which chronicles the making of the stage musical adaptation and the 51-minute "The Making of Mary Poppins"), a few featurettes ("Jolly Holiday," "The Gala World Premiere," "The Gala World Premiere Party," "Movie Magic," "A Magical Musical Reunion Featuring Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke and Richard Sherman" and two different featurettes labeled"Step in Time"—one spotlighting that particular scene in the film, another highlighting Broadway composer George Stiles), a Dick Van Dyke make-up test, a deleted song ("Chimpanzoo"), the kid-centric "Disney Song Selection" and "Movie Sing-a-Long" features, the Julie Andrews-starring short film "The Cat that Looked at a King" (10 minutes) and the usual supply of trailers and TV spots. Oh, plus a DVD copy and a digital copy. Whew!
I'm guessing that 99% of the people reading this review have already seen Mary Poppins. If you have, you already know how good the movie is and only need to be told that the Blu-ray release does it justice. If you haven't, you're in for a real treat. The word "classic" gets overused these days, but it certainly applies to this heartwarming gem. Highly recommended.
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