Synopsis: A magical, musical nanny (Andrews) brings a breath of fresh air into the stuffy Banks household in turn-of-the-century England. Overstuffed with gaiety, this children's fantasy is filled with dance numbers and outrageous songs (among them the seemingly unpronounceable "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious"), and its blend of live-action and animation was a marvel in its day.
Wind's in the east, mist comin' in.
Like something is brewin', about to begin.
Can't put me finger on what lies in store.
But I feel what's to happen, all happened before.
Adapted from a series of books by P.L. Travers, 'Mary Poppins' was one of the last projects personally supervised by Walt Disney. Directed by Robert Stevenson, written by Bill Walsh and Don DaGradi, and with music and lyrics by Richard and Robert Sherman, this musical is a fantastical, comedic romp about a magical English Nanny who flies into a needful family's life when the wind changes.
Practically perfect in every way, Mary Poppins (Julie Andrews, in her first film role), arrives in London to help the Banks family. Children Michael and Jane are mischievous terrors who have gone through six nannies in the last four months. Worse, they have no real relationship with their overly stuffy and strict father, Mr. Banks (David Tomlinson). With the assistance of her her chimney sweep / street artist friend, Bert (Dick Van Dyke), Mary Poppins introduces Michael and Jane to a wondrous world where laughing makes you float, where you can jump into an animated world via sidewalk art, and where chimney sweeps perform elaborate dance numbers on rooftops (to be fair, I assume this one's real).
As Mary Poppins changes the world and people around her, Mr. Banks fights to stay stuck in his stuffy ways. Englishmen and bankers must be formal and precise, but Mary Poppins' silly words and infectious spirit slowly breaks down the father, allowing him to see the joys in fully engaging in the lives of his children.
A classic film that combines just about every technology innovation developed at Walt Disney Studios... where should we begin our analysis today?
I don't know about you, but simply hearing the 'Mary Poppins' overture on this Blu-ray's main menu instantly makes me feel like a kid again. Memories sprang up of tuning in the 'Wonderful World of Disney' on Sunday evenings during the Michael Eisner era where he, in the tradition of Mr. Disney, introduced us to a catalog of wonderful family movies. As a child, these television broadcasts, combined with theatrical re-releases, made the entire Disney catalog feel new.
Looking at the movie today I saw so many new details that my younger-self had never noticed or remembered. As a self-diagnosed story addict, we could have a chat about how little actually happens in the film, or how, during the animated sequences, Michael and Jane simply disappear for great swaths of time to allow Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke to (rightfully) take center stage. But you know what, our modern conventions, our development process of "rules" could never allow for such a production to be made today.
'Mary Poppins' is a deceptively simple story on purpose. Mary Poppins comes to London and changes one family's life by helping a man become a better father, right? Many family films have a variation on this age old tale. But why? Because in simplicity, in a story anyone can follow, the filmmakers jam packed this classic film with so many genre-bending sequences. Tangents, all of them, designed to slap smiles on our faces as wide as Uncle Albert's and then, at the end, to pull our heart strings when Mary Poppins departs, having succeeded, but seemingly destined to face the world alone.
Basically, 'Mary Poppins' is the perfect movie to watch with your family. In addition to amazing kiddies and allowing you to remember your own childhood days (assuming you've been a youngster sometime in the last 50 or so years), 'Poppins' boasts a wonderful sense of innocence and nostalgia that represents, to me at least, a lot of what Walt Disney created in all of his films and theme parks. Walt Disney wanted us to experience the world, if only for a short time, the way most of us only can at the beginnings of our lives. He wanted us to marvel at the wonder of it all. He wanted us to believe in silly things, to laugh and enjoy whatever moments we can without worry. Mary Poppins might not be real (um, spoiler?), but the film 'Mary Poppins' is best described as magical.
We should probably also talk about what a technological marvel the film truly is. Disney's team of filmmakers assembled a project that truly wouldn't be rivaled, visually, until 'Star Wars' blew audiences' minds. Shot entirely on sound stages, 'Mary Poppins' extends its universe with gorgeous matte paintings (similar to those used in 'Citizen Kane') and numerous instances of optical compositing. To combine live action and animation -- something Disney had been doing since his first silent version of 'Alice in Wonderland' -- they used the Sodium Vapor Process, aka the "yellow screen process" to create a traveling matte so actors could dance around in just about any background. It was so amazing at the time 'Poppins' premiered, it went on to win an Academy Award in 1965. More than the visual effects, the animation itself is gorgeous and there are numerous practical effects -- floating people and animatronic animals -- that truly make one of the true technological marvels of 1960s Hollywood.
'Mary Poppins' -- thanks to Walt's collaboration with dozens of talented writers and singers and dancers and animators and actors and crew members -- is everything Walt Disney did well... all in one project. For those reasons, and many more, it's not only an excellent film to watch and enjoy as often as you please, it's also a really important film for its breakthroughs and as a crowning masterpiece just before the death of one of Hollywood's most influential storytellers.
On Blu-ray, hopefully your family can find a little 'Mary Poppins' magic too. In a related note, if you get a chance, and you're a 'Mary Poppins' and/or Disney fan, I highly recommend going to see 'Saving Mr. Banks', which opens in cinemas on December 13. A few liberties were taken, and the dual timeline structure takes a while to settle in (it may seem superfluous at first), but it's a terrific, emotional film that serves as an excellent behind the scenes look at how 'Mary Poppins' was developed.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Mary Poppins' debuts on Blu-ray as a Blu-ray + DVD Digital Copy (iTunes, Amazon, Vudu, etc.) 50th Anniversary Edition. The Blu-ray is coded to Regions A, B, and C. Trailers include 'Saving Mr. Banks', 'The Jungle Book', and an anti-smoking ad.
The only thing that truly bothered me about this release was Menu and Sub Menu functionality. To access various language tracks and Special Features, must one endlessly hunt for choices along horizontal lists that aren't very functional. For example, if you click past the last item, you end up at the beginning and have to click all the way through again. Further, getting back to the Main Menu itself can be a bit of a chore. Surprising in this day and age, but if anyone from Walt Disney Home Entertainment is reading this, I would personally suggest avoiding this particular menu structure in favor of something more versatile.
'Mary Poppins' rides up the bannister onto Blu-ray with a resplendent MPEG-4 AVC encode, framed in the film's original 1.66:1 aspect ratio.
Digitally restored for high definition, 'Mary Poppins' looks absolutely fantastic on Blu-ray. Grain levels are intact and filmic. Color reproduction is bright, bold, and accurate -- especially the fanciful cartoon sequences. Contrast is dynamic, and black levels (like the bankers' suits and hats) are decidedly dark. But none of those highlights compare to overall image resolution and detail. Human faces and other clothing textures are impressive. You'll see individual hair follicles, wrinkles, and even makeup effects on the Senior Mr. Dawes. And finally, as far as I could tell, I didn't see a tuppence worth of dirt, scratches, or other damage.
For minor quibbles to discuss, this is some minor ringing around characters in a few shots, and many special effects shots and composites, including the opening title sequence, suffer noticeable resolution drops and grain spikes. Understandable given the compositing techniques of the day, and not a big problem, overall.
'Mary Poppins' dances and sings its way on to Blu-ray with a robust English 7.1 DTS-HD MA sound mix.
We have what appears to be an expanded version of the near-field mix created a decade ago. Dialog and singing voices literally take center stage and are always clear and vibrant. The film's score nicely films out the multichannel soundstage. And there are even a few wonderful moments, like exploding fireworks during "Step in Time", where all eight channels spring to life with active, almost-aggressive panning, and LFE thundered.
In terms of "faults," it's a little quieter than some mixes (simply in terms of what levels I usually set my receiver) and the center channel might be a little hot compared to the stereo mix. Finally, as we would expect from similar era soundtracks, the dynamic range is a wee bit limited, but that's okay. Basically, whether you're listening to this soundtrack in lossless or lossy, it's a pretty similar experience.
Alternate audio tracks include Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes in English, French, or Spanish, as well as the "Original Theatrical Mix" in English Dolby Digital 2.0. I can't speak, personally, to how "original" this mix is, but the stereo track is also quite good and doesn't sound noticeably compressed (it even matrixes well in Dolby Pro Logic IIx!).
The following special features were produced for the 40th Anniversary DVD. Most remain in SD, though a few are in widescreen. Interestingly enough, the 50th Anniversary Edition DVD no longer appears to include this material (according to the features listed on movies.disney.com).
'Mary Poppins' is a top tier catalog title we've been long waiting to see on Blu-ray. Thanks to the film's 50th Anniversary and the biopic about the project's development, 'Saving Mr. Banks', the wait is finally over. The classic live action / musical / animated picture features a stunning video transfer and a lovely multi-channel sound mix (purists can enjoy the "original" stereo sound mix as well). Special Features are plentiful, though there isn't much new if you already own the 40th Anniversary DVD. Highly Recommended.