Although they released a 40th Aniversary Edition in 2004, Disney is back feeding at the trough with a 45th Anniversary Edition of Mary Poppins on DVD. While the excellent film probably doesn’t need to be re-released every five years (is a 50th Anniversary Edition in the works?), it’s another great opportunity for anyone without the film in their DVD collection to rectify their shortcomings.
Since Walt Disney’s Mary Poppins was released in 1964 and has been widely available on home video, DVD, and on television for many, many years, most people are aware of the plot and have their own opinion of the film. The story of a magical nanny moving in with an English family and helping to reconnect their bonds through songs and outings has been a favorite of millions for, well, 45 years. It’s a classic film that artfully combines music, live action, and animation to make a true family film, not just a kid’s movie.
The film has never sat near the top of my personal list of all-time favorite Disney films, but only someone more cynical and critical than I can really find a flaw in this masterpiece. The performances of Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins, Dick Van Dyke as Bert, David Tomlinson as Mr. Banks, and Karen Dotrice and Matthew Garber as Jane and Michael Banks are excellent. The mix of animation and live-action, while done without the aid of computers, still looks great. I can’t believe how well it holds up (although I could do without the stupid animatronic birds.)
The movie also won an Oscar for best song with “Chim Chim Cher-ee.” It’s an indication of how strong the songs of Richard and Robert Sherman are that “Chim Chim Cher-ee” is not even the best song in the movie. “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” “Spoonful of Sugar,” “Feed the Birds,” and “Jolly Holliday” are all Disney classics. Not only do Andrews and Van Dyke deliver them with tons of energy and spark, but the dancing rivals MGM musicals in vitality. The whole movie just pops. If you have a kid who somehow hasn’t seen it yet, force them down in front of the TV with this in your DVD player.
The only really drawback of the movie is the somewhat thin plot. It really holds together a series of amazing set pieces, but the stories don’t connect particularly well. That said, there are some good messages being given by Mary Poppins and Bert that kids today should hear. Most of them are contained in the songs, which tend to cover over the episodic nature of the story.
Again, you’ve probably already seen the movie multiple times and don’t need my review to convince you either way. The movie is great and even kids saturated with mind numbing video games and Barney DVDs will love it. It’s just a no brainer to have this one in family DVD collection.
Just to kick this one off the right way, this is a great disc with a lot of really good extras. It has everything a Mary Poppins fan could want. However, if you have the 40th Anniversary Edition of Mary Poppins and it’s not horribly scratched or smeared with jelly, you probably don’t need to pick up the 2-disc 45th Anniversary Edition. With one exception, the extras are the same and reportedly the transfer with a 1.66 to 1 aspect ratio is the same as was used the last time around.
The main difference between the 40th and 45th Anniversary releases is that the current one includes a section on the Mary Poppins stage show. A cynical person would call it a commercial, since the show is about to go on a national tour (something mentioned in the extras and the press materials repeatedly), but commercial or not, they do a nice job. It just has nothing to do with the movie. There is a 50 minute featurette called “Mary Poppins from Page to Stage” that includes interviews with all the main creative people and cast involved in the stage version along with Richard Sherman, who assures us that he loves everything about it. It’s a pretty definitive look at the show. They also include the full “Step in Time” number from the stage show as well as a downloadable mp3 of the song. There are also galleries of the designs from the stages costumes and sets.
Once you get past the stage show stuff, everything included is repeated from the 40th Anniversary set. You can see for yourself if you read Rafe’s review of the 40th Anniversary edition back in 2004. It’s good stuff, though. There is a commentary track provided by Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke, Karen Dotrice, and Richard Sherman. It sounds like Andrews and Van Dyke were together and Dotrice and Sherman were together and the commentary was cut together. They also have comments from Robert Sherman, who is almost unintelligible, and Walt Disney among others. If you want to hear the dialogue and songs of the movie and still pick up the facts along the way, there is also a very interesting “Poppins Pop-Up Fun Facts” feature. It puts short facts about the film or scene in boxes on screen as the film plays. The facts are geared more towards adults than kids and cover almost every aspect of the movie.
With music playing such a key role in the film, there are several extras primarily focused on the music. “Disney’s Song Selection” allows you to skip right to all the musical numbers or to play the whole film but have the lyrics on screen to help with singing along. Even an old man like me knows all the lyrics already, but it might help neophytes.
Richard Sherman is the key figure in two excellent featurettes about the movie. His brother Robert Sherman was less physically able to participate, it seems. “A Musical Journey with Richard Sherman” is 20 minutes and Sherman discusses the writing of the songs and talks extensively about what was cut out and why. He notes that many of the songs or melodies ended up in altered forms in the movie or in other movies. It’s really well done and great background information for a fan. Although it’s not aimed directly at kids, they might be interested and big time Disney fans will love it. At the end he plays a cut song called “Chimpanzoo” accompanied by some concept art. The song is inexplicably given its own separate extra, with the exact same performance by Sherman repeated. Sherman also takes part in the 17 minute “Magical Musical Reunion” with Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke. They sit around Sherman’s piano and talk about the movie and the songs with Sherman playing snippets of songs that were included and cut. It’s like a commentary track only without the movie playing.
The disc includes the carryover making-of documentary called “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious: The Making Of Mary Poppins.” The documentary hosted by Dick Van Dyke is pretty definitive. Lasting 50 minutes, all of the major players are interviewed and tons of behind-the-scenes information is revealed. Film historians and modern animators talk about the film’s long production history and lasting impact. Julie Andrews discusses her feelings about shooting her first film. It’s about everything you want one of these things to be. Karen Dotrice even speaks briefly about Matthew Garber and his death in the 1970’s.
The remaining items aren’t exactly must-see, but they add a little color to the disc. There is 17 minutes of the world premier of the 1964 theatrical release. This is really fascinating as it shows the fashion of the time as well as the amazingly awkward interviews of the attendees by the television and radio hosts. It doesn’t exactly help in understanding the movie, but interesting to see what celebrity watching was like 45 years ago. There is also a make-up test of Dick Van Dyke playing the old bank owner. I don’t see why it’s needed, since he looks the same as in the movie, but it’s there. There are also the trailers for the original release and the subsequent re-releases and a gallery of still art.
The final two items are less interesting. “Movie Magic” is supposed to be a look at the special effects used in the movie, but it really doesn’t do much explaining. It’s geared toward kids and is more on narration and flash than any substance. “The Cat that Looked at a King” is a new (well, it was new for the 40th Anniversary Edition) animated story based on a P.L. Travers story that includes Julie Andrews as the live action narrator. The 10 minute short is not very good and the animation reminds me vaguely of the Emperor’s New Groove television show.
Despite the weaknesses in a few of the extras, there is little to dislike in this release. Again, though, if you have the 40th Anniversary release, you’re good to go and don’t need this one. If you’re making do with an older DVD copy or even a VHS tape, then now is the time to upgrade. This is a classic movie with a good selection of extras and it belongs in your collection.