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Mary Poppins: 40th Anniversary Edition DVD Review

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Theatrical Release: August 29, 1964 (limited) / Running Time: 139 Minutes / Rating: G

Director: Robert Stevenson / Writers: Bill Walsh, Don Da Gradi; P.L. Travers (books)

Cast: Julie Andrews (Mary Poppins), Dick Van Dyke (Bert, Mr. Dawes Senior), David Tomlinson (Mr. Banks), Glynis Johns (Mrs. Banks), Hermione Baddeley (Ellen), Reta Shaw (Mrs. Brill), Karen Dotrice (Jane Banks), Matthew Garber (Michael Banks), Elsa Lanchester (Katie Nanna), Arthur Treacher (The Constable), Reginald Owen (Admiral Boom), Ed Wynn (Uncle Albert), Jane Darwell (The Bird Woman), Arthur Malet (Mr. Dawes Junior)

Songs: "Sister Suffragette", "The Life I Lead", "The Perfect Nanny", "A Spoonful of Sugar", "Jolly Holiday", "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious", "Stay Awake", "I Love to Laugh", "Feed the Birds", "The Fidelity Fiduciary Bank", "Chim Chim Cher-ee", "Step in Time", "Let's Go Fly a Kite"

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The year is 1910, the place is London. Residing at 17 Cherry Tree Lane: the Banks Family. Mrs. Banks has been preoccupied by the suffragette movement to get women the right to vote. The father of the family, who believes "a British home is run by precision", has been paying most of his attention to his job at the Bank of England.
Meanwhile, the two mischievous Banks children, Jane and Michael have driven another nanny wild.

Many respond to the newspaper ad that Mr. Banks writes in search of a strict replacement nanny. But the one who ultimately gets the position hasn't seen Mr. Banks' ad at all. She saw the rhyming piece that Jane and Michael composed, which their father disregarded and ripped up. How? Well, the newly-hired nanny is Mary Poppins and this is the first of many questions which her presence raises for the Banks.

Mary Poppins is not like anyone the kids have met. She seems to have far more in her handbag than is quite possible. Her idea of adventure is taking Jane and Michael to a magical world that exists inside a sidewalk chalk drawing. She even makes cleaning up their room fun!

In the subtle and explicit lessons she imparts and the improbable encounters she leads them on, Mary Poppins quickly changes much in the lives of Jane and Michael, and in turn the parents that have been too busy to appreciate them.

Oh hello, I'm Dick Van Dyke. You may remember me from such television shows as "The Dick Van Dyke Show." Jane and Michael Banks are speechless over the arrival of their new nanny.

That's about as much of a plot synopsis for Mary Poppins that is needed for a few reasons. For one thing, it is one of the most widely-seen films ever created. More significantly, as strong as the film's story is,
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the delights it offers are far more sensational than a few paragraphs of text can do. Forty years have passed since Mary Poppins was released to theaters and became an instant success for Walt Disney and his studio.

Whether or not the film was predestined to be a success as songwriter Richard Sherman suggests in the audio commentary, all of the elements do come together to produce a universally satisfying picture. Filled with laughs, dazzling visual effects, an impressive collection of songs, and a wonderful heart, this grand musical comedy remains fresh, insightful, and evocative all these decades later. While no film is universally loved, Poppins comes remarkably close. Embraced by the moviegoing public, praised by critics, and bestowed with awards, Mary Poppins has delighted generations and will surely continue to do so for a long, long time.

Making her film debut, Julie Andrews delivers an Oscar-winning performance in the title role. Andrews fully embodies Poppins, wholeheartedly embracing the quirks and practical perfection of her character. As Bert, Mary's more down-to-earth friend and counterpart, Dick Van Dyke pours no shortage of energy into one of his first big screen performances. His character, a street performer/sidewalk artist/chimney sweep/kite seller, becomes as endearing and the chemistry between the two leads is electrifying. In their most widely seen of three pairings, Karen Dotrice and Matthew Garber bring the right touch of innocence and professionalism to make the Banks children believable and likable. David Tomlinson and Glynis Johns round out the Banks family with inspired performances as the preoccupied parents, somewhat creating an archetype for a Disney staple.

Mary goes to the measuring tape. Bert and Mary share a dance.

The music from longtime Disney songwriters Richard and Robert Sherman is enduring as any other Disney film score, from the haunting "Feed the Birds" (Walt's favorite) to the jubilant "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" that introduced a new word into the vernacular.

From its intriguing opening sequence to its poignant bittersweet ending, Mary Poppins packs such a great deal of joy into its 139 minutes that it's hard to dispute that this is not only one of Walt's masterpieces, but one of the finest films ever created.

Buy Mary Poppins: 40th Anniversary Edition from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.66:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 Enhanced Home Theater Mix (English), Dolby 2.0 English (Enhanced Home Theater Mix, Original Theatrical Stereo Mix), Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English; Closed Captioned
Release Date: December 14, 2004
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (DVD-9s)
THX-Certified with Optimizer tests
Suggested Retail Price: $29.99

This is the third time Mary Poppins arrives on DVD. It was first released in the spring of 1998 with no frills as the studio's very first DVD. Its second release came in June of 2000 as part of Disney's short-lived Gold Collection. This disc made use of the same 1.85:1 non-anamorphic widescreen transfer, but included some bonus features, none of which are directly ported over here. These supplements essentially have each been replaced by superior features of a similar nature. I have commented in the relevant areas about how the new bonus features compare with the old. Both of the prior Mary Poppins DVD releases are now out of print.

VIDEO and AUDIO

Wow! Mary Poppins has been given a dramatic restoration from Lowry Digital and this new 1.66:1 anamorphic transfer looks remarkable. For a 40-year-old film that was plagued by a fair amount of video issues in its two previous DVD releases, this digital presentation dazzles with its complete lack of flaws. Colors are rich and accurate. The vibrant visuals are truly a sight to behold. The impeccably clean print showcases an amazing level of detail. Even effects shots, which are often the most likely to give away a film's age, hold up extremely well. Viewing this transfer up close and on a big screen, you'd still be hard-pressed to find a single imperfection; the clarity is astounding.

In general, the difference between the previous non-anamorphic DVD's video and this remastered, 16x9-enhanced transfer was night and day. The significant improvement in picture quality would have been enough to recommend an upgrade, even if there weren't a half-dozen other reasons to do so (which there are). See for yourself:
 

Screencap from Gold Collection DVD

Screencap of same frame from 40th Anniversary Edition


A close examination of the frames above and throughout, and you'll see that compared to past 1.85:1 DVD transfers, this new 1.66:1 transfer loses a bit of picture on the sides and adds a bit to top and bottom. If Mary Poppins was framed for the 1.66:1 aspect ratio, it doesn't make much sense for it to be missing some previously-seen information on the sides. A 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer could have just as easily substituted this picture in place of the side bars. Nonetheless, the difference in picture is rather minimal, and in most cases, those sidebars will be cut off due to overscan. And I'd say the vast improvement in video quality definitely overshadows the insignificant framing differences.

There are three English language soundtracks to choose from on this DVD. The Dolby Digital 5.1 Enhanced Home Theater Mix boasts a dynamic listening experience,
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on par with the two previous Disney remasters of this pedigree, Aladdin and The Lion King. This 5.1 track is just as full of life as the film is. The musical numbers make grand use of the surround setup, Admiral Boom's hourly blasts reverberate through the subwoofer, and the rooftop fireworks sequence honestly makes you feel like you're in the middle of a 4th of July celebration.

The original theatrical stereo mix is softer and more restrained. In musical numbers, the instrumentation feels less vibrant and powerful. Dialogue just isn't quite as crisp-sounding; there's a bit of hiss that's more evident as well. While I wouldn't find fault with this kind of track on most other live action catalogue releases and it is probably more faithful to the original soundtrack, the Stereo Mix is drastically less affecting and less pleasing. The 2.0 Enhanced Home Theater Mix is somewhat of a happy medium; it retains the format of the original audio track, but it features sharper and more aggressive sounds.

Some might complain that the opening studio logo is not the "Buena Vista Pictures" Mary Poppins would have had first in theaters (as seen in the Premiere bonus features), but the '80s style light blue castle "Walt Disney Pictures" logo.

Poppins Pop-Up Fun Facts Disc 1's Main Menu

BONUS FEATURES

DISC ONE

Under the "Music & More" heading, there is "Disney's Song Selection."
The feature is the same as it appears on other DVDs, although this time only 8 of the film's 13 songs are featured. You have the option to play all 8 of the selected songs continuously (running just under a half-hour) or to just play any one individually. There is an option to play these musical numbers with lyrics on screen (via plain yellow subtitles); otherwise, they're just like accessing the scenes in the film, presented in the 5.1 Home Theater Remix.

The other two bonus features on Disc One, listed under "Backstage Disney", are far more substantial. The newly recorded audio commentary features five participants recorded in three separate groups. Stars Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke speak together, Karen Dotrice joins songwriter Richard Sherman, his brother Robert comments alone from England. The commentary is pretty fluidly edited together and all of the speakers are pretty exciting to listen to, particularly the charismatic actors. Julie and Dick share a lot of laughs (DVD deems a great number of things "wonderful"); Karen recalls her experiences as a child actor (she never knew who played Mr. Dawes Sr. until the premiere) along with the sometimes feisty Matthew Garber. Occassionally, the commentary turns to archived interview clips from Walt Disney, director Robert Stevenson, conductor Irwin Kostal, Andrews, and Van Dyke.

Lastly, "Poppins Pop-Up Fun Facts" makes use of a subtitle track to dispense more tidbits on the film. The grape-colored graphic box features an umbrella on one side, and the 'fun facts' in yellow text on the other side. This track does a good job at supplementing the audio commentary; it stays relatively specific to what's on screen and mostly doesn't repeat what has already been said elsewhere.

Disc One's menus are nicely done. Various instrumentals appropriately supplement the 16x9 menu screens. The Main Menu features the penguin waiters, one of whom holds up the "Main Menu." The umbrella cursors are nice touch. "Disc Index" merely provides a list of headings of the various sections on both discs.

Sneak Peeks at the start of Disc One are for Bambi, Pooh's Heffalump Movie, Mulan II, and The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement. The Sneak Peeks menu adds previews for Where the Red Fern Grows, The Young Black Stallion and the Disney Princess line.

Conceptual artwork seen in the deleted song "Chimpanzoo." Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke join Richard Sherman around the piano to share memories and laughter in "A Mary Poppins Musical Reunion." Richard Sherman hosts "A Musical Journey."

DISC TWO

The deleted song "Chimpanzoo" (1:30) features Richard Sherman singing and playing piano and kazoo on a musical number written for Mary Poppins but never filmed. Storyboards and concept art are edited together to recreate the brief sequence as it never came to be.

"A Mary Poppins Musical Reunion" (17:16) reunites songwriter Richard Sherman with stars Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke. The trio reflects on the film's music, with Sherman recalling the things that inspired the songs that his brother Robert and he wrote together. Sherman sits at the piano, occassionally playing songs that did or didn't make it into the film, while Andrews and Van Dyke share their stories and sometimes sing. In addition to clips of the three at the piano, this cozy retrospective featurette uses production photos and a few snippets from the film.

Richard Sherman is the enthusiastic host to the great next feature called "A Musical Journey" (20:48). Here, Sherman provides a barrage of anecdotes about musical numbers that made the film and some that didn't. There's surprisingly clear footage of the cast acting in front of black screens (to be replaced by matte paintings), an alternate version of the fireworks scene with rapid orchestration, footage from a deleted yodeling number by Julie Andrews, and much more. The fast pace works well for this revealing and entertaining piece, and Sherman makes for a great host as he moves in front of various backdrops from the film including the animated worlds of the chalk drawings. It ends with the deleted "Chimpanzoo" song as it appears elsewhere.

There is one set-top game present called "I Love to Laugh." As in the film, Uncle Albert is floating in the air and needs to be brought down. Questions are asked about different objects in the room. Three right answers and Albert is down at ground level and you've won. Wrong answers yield laughter and Uncle Albert rising above. The game is narrated by the parrot and an Ed Wynn-sound-alike. It's short and simple, but still a little more inspired than some of the inane activities that have been included on other DVDs. (The simple Trivia Game from the Gold Collection DVD has not been carried over.)

In Disc 2's making-of documentary, DVD shows off his winning laugh. Karen Dotrice (Jane Banks) is all grown up now. Glynis Johns (Mrs. Banks) appearing in the making-of documentary.

Backstage Disney

As far as making-of documentaries go, the 51-minute piece here, "Supercalifragilisticexpialido-cious: The Making of Mary Poppins", is about as good as they get. There's excellent participation from the living filmmakers, great content, and a terrific pace. Dick Van Dyke hosts this extensive retrospective and is one of many who take time to reflect on the film. Also appearing are cast members Julie Andrews, Karen Dotrice, and Glynis Johns; matte artist Peter Ellenshaw, songwriters Richard and Robert Sherman, choreographers Dee Dee Wood and Mark Breaux, costume designer Tony Walton. In addition, there's the proper-speaking British film historian, modern Disney filmmakers (Andreas Deja and Don Hahn), and a P.L. Travers biographer.

The documentary is replete with fascinating anecdotes about the film's production and the journey to get there. We learn of Walt Disney's twenty-year quest to get the film rights to the story and the Sherman brothers' development of the score prior to getting the necessary approval from the author. Substantial portions are devoted to the film's casting (particularly how Disney was drawn to the two leads who were inexperienced in films), visual effects, and music. Among the highlights: tape recordings of the author P.L. Travers voicing her objections with the developing script at meetings with the filmmakers, footage of Julie Andrews accepting her awards for Mary Poppins. The whole thing is really terrific.

The much shorter, 17-minute documentary from the Gold Collection DVD, "Practically Perfect in Every Way: The Magic Behind the Masterpiece" is not included here. It is also hosted by Dick Van Dyke, albeit a slightly younger, mustachioed Dick Van Dyke. While this 1997 documentary could be seen as redundant here, and it's not as good as the new nearly hour-long piece, it's a shame it wasn't included. It covered some of the same ground, but there was different interview footage, including Leonard Maltin and Walt Disney, plus an additional appearance by Julie Andrews and the linking host segments featuring Dick Van Dyke. If nothing else, its exclusion may make you think twice about getting rid of the Gold Collection DVD.

The Movie Magic of Mary Poppins Deconstruction of a Scene: Jolly Holiday The Dick Van Dyke Makeup Test

"The Movie Magic of Mary Poppins" (7:00) is a kid-oriented featurette on the film's many visual effects. The young unseen narrator provides an overview of various techniques used in the film like audio-animatronics, stop-motion animation, and wirework. Most of the video footage is either the final Mary Poppins scenes or raw footage corresponding to the effects being discussed, and there are also some clips from other effects-filled Disney films like Song of the South and The Nightmare Before Christmas. (The feature's copyright date is 2002; this and the "I Love to Laugh" game previously appeared on Region 2 DVDs.)

Next are two "Deconstruction of a Scene" featurettes. As the name implies, these break down a couple of elaborate musical numbers and illustrate how the various elements worked together to create the final product.

In "Jolly Holiday" (13:00) we see Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke acting in front of black background, just the rough or finished animation of the penguins, and then both components complementing each other as they do in the film. While it somewhat removes the magic from these hybrid animation/live action scenes, the final product is so convincing and inspired that they can't be 'ruined.'

"Step in Time" (4:50) mixes the rooftop chimney sweep dance sequence as it appears in the film with footage from the set and clips of dancers planning out the sequence's choreography.

These two deconstructions are interesting to see, but not the most exciting bonus included and the novelty wears a bit thin after a while.

The Dick Van Dyke Makeup Test (1:05) shows the actor made up for the role of the elderly bank chief Mr. Dawes. As with any makeup test, Van Dyke moves around for the camera to see how convincing the look (in this case, the aging) will look on film. This footage is set to audio of the actor recalling how he asked Walt if he could do this second part as well, and what the makeup entailed.

Walt Disney is joined by Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs at the Gala World Premiere. Dick Van Dyke gives an interview on "The Red Carpet". Julie Andrews and then-husband costume designer Tony Walton in "The Party."

Next are two features on the film's elaborate Gala World Premiere. First is "The Red Carpet" (17:40). Now this is cool. It's Thursday night. The date is August 27, 1964, and Mary Poppins is having its spectacular premiere at Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood.

Much of the material from the radio and television broadcasts of the premiere festivites was recently discovered, and for the first time since airing live, they are edited together to recreate this electrifying event. A mix of color and black-and-white footage is compiled, as the stars make their entrances and are interviewed both for radio and TV.
Among those who appear: Maureen O'Hara, Celeste Holm, Ed Wynn, Dick Van Dyke, Rita Shaw, Roddy McDowall, Annette Funicello, Suzanne Pleshette, Carol Lynley, Robert Stevenson, Buddy Ebsen, Cesar Romero, Brian Keith, Vera Miles, Keith Larsen, Bill Walsh, P.L. Travers, Walt Disney, and Julie Andrews. Many are briefly questioned, and in spite of a poor interviewer, it's interesting to hear them talk about their previous and upcoming Disney films (such as Those Calloways and The Monkey's Uncle). If this was a new film, it'd be viewed as pure hype, but there is a nostalgic allure in this highly enjoyable program recreation.

As the text description provided explains, after the screening of Mary Poppins, guests at the premiere attended a gala party in the parking lot next to the theater. "The Party" (6:22) mixes recently-discovered 16mm newsreel footage with audio from the post-screening radio broadcast. Most of those interviewed here appeared in the pre-screening video footage, and everyone commenting on Poppins heaps praise on the film. Among the new interviewees here are Angie Dickinson, The Amsterdams, Mary Tyler Moore, Carl Reiner, and Julie Andrews' first husband Tony Walton.

"Hollywood Goes to a World Premiere", the 9-minute vintage featurette that was on the previous Mary Poppins Gold Collection DVD, is not ported over. This piece contained similar footage to what is presented here, but with different narration (and some different star appearances like Walter Brennan). The only interviews seen in this piece were Dick Van Dyke, Julie Andrews, and Walt Disney; there were more clips from the film. I suppose this would have made for a repetitive bonus feature, and it's clearly not as thorough as the Premiere footage that is included, but its exclusion nonetheless is worth noting.

Next is Publicity, an area which has been missing or sorely lacking on many notable Disney DVD releases. Trailers are extremely cool for a variety of reasons, and when they're done right they can capture the feel of a movie in a couple of minutes. This Mary Poppins DVD fortunately provides many a trailer.

The Original Theatrical Teaser Trailer (2:54) opens with Walt Disney talking to exhibitor Bob Seiley (who proclaims the film the best one Disney has ever made) and follows up with a scroll about the Grauman's Chinese Theater premiere. The Original Theatrical Trailer (4:12) starts like the final minute of the teaser and proceeds with a more traditional montage of clips from the film. Next is Julie Andrews' Premiere Greeting (0:40), a brief notice from the actress regretfully declining her invitation to the premieres held in various American cities. The abrupt ending makes it feels like it may have been truncated.

Walt Disney appears in the Theatrical Teaser Trailer. Visual Development Gallery Costume sketch for Mary Poppins Wheat Honeys Cereal makes an offer you can't refuse...free Bert the Chimney Sweep Pop-Up!

Page 2 of the Publicity section offers 2 30-second TV spots, and three re-issue trailers each running about a minute. The first of these is from 1966; the other two from 1973, one of which is specifically for Radio City Music Hall theater and also notes a Disney stage show. All of these previews are presented in fullscreen or with a mixture of minorly letterboxed material.

The last release of Mary Poppins (part of the Gold Collection) contained just one trailer (2:36), which is not present here, but mostly resembled a narrated and abbreviated version of the theatrical trailer presented here.

The Still Art Galleries offer an immersive look at photographs and artwork from the film's production, with nearly 300 stills in total. The galleries are divided into 11 sections and are neatly arranged like sidewalk chalk drawings. As usual, you are presented with a series of thumbnails (generally, 8 to a page) with which to navigate and select to view at fullscreen. Sometimes, the thumbnails don't really give you an accurate idea of what the featured picture will be, but if you're in the galleries, you'll likely wade through all at fullsize anyway.

Conceptual artwork can be seen in the stunning colorful drawings and paintings of "Visual Development" (36 stills), and in rougher black-and-white sketches under "Story Development" (18 stills). In "Peter Ellenshaw Paintings", we find 12 stills of either the artist's matte paintings or photographs of the talented matte painter at work. "Recording Sessions" contains 9 black-and-white still photos of the cast (mostly Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke) and orchestra in the studio recording musical numbers for the film.

On Page 2, "Costumes & Make-Up" (35 stills) provides costume design art, as well as the cast testing looks out for the makeup and wardrobe departments. A whopping 78 "Behind-the-Scenes" photos take you to the set and soundstages during production. "Cast Photos" offers 18 promotional pictures of leading and supporting actors, mostly in color. Walt Disney himself can be seen with filmmakers during Poppins' production in "Walt & Friends" (8 stills) and at "The Premiere" (10 stills) with Andrews and Van Dyke. "Publicity" houses 17 posters and ads, plus a 1984 Disney Channel magazine cover. "Memorablia" contains 21 photos of album covers, books, and other interesting merchandise from around the time of release.

Julie Andrews et cetera in the new short "The Cat That Looked At a King." The king ponders, while ignoring his wife the Queen.

"The Cat That Looked At a King" (9:49) is a charming new short film. Julie Andrews and a couple of kids follow a white cat and enter through a sidewalk chalk drawing into an animated world. There, they discover a king (nicely voiced by David Ogden Stiers) obsessed with facts and figures. The wise cat (Tracey Ullman) challenges the king to a three-question battle of wits, with the throne at stake. While the king may know many things, his theoretical ponderings have him lacking some very basic human emotions and failing to pay attention to the queen (voiced by Sarah Ferguson). With pleasing angular animation and a clever story (adapted from P.L. Travers' Mary Poppins Opens the Door), this short is a most welcome addition and a very inspired creation from Disney. It is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen and Dolby Digital 5.1.

Disc 2's menus are simpler, but nice. Accompanied by instrumentals from the film, these 4x3 screens resemble the street drawings, and silhouettes and leaves pass by. There is a Disc Index which takes you to the individual sections of this disc, and provides headings for the other.

This Mary Poppins DVD re-release is housed in a holographic carboard slipcover, which holds its standard width black Amaray keepcase. The slipcover does indeed open like a book (a fact made explicit by the "Open Here For Fun!" wording) to reveal photos from the bonus features. Inside the case, the DVD Guide opens up to six pages and provides a map and overview for the DVD's bonus features.

Mary, Bert, and the kids ride the ponies right off the merry-go-round! Let's go fly a kite with the Banks!

CLOSING THOUGHTS

With picture, sound, and bonus features that show off the amazing potentials of the DVD format, the Mary Poppins: 40th Anniversary Edition satisfies in practically every regard. This release greatly surpasses the film's two previously issued DVDs, although it's unfortunate that the 17-minute documentary from the Gold Collection (and everything else from that disc) has not been carried over. Nonetheless, Disney has put together an excellent two-disc set worthy of Walt's most brilliant live action film. Fans will clearly want to upgrade for the improved transfer and wealth of terrific supplemental material.

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Related Product:

Mary Poppins: 40th Anniversary Edition Soundtrack (2 CDs)

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Reviewed December 3, 2004.