You'd have to search far and wide to find someone unfamiliar with Robert Stevenson's charming Mary Poppins (1964). Adapted from the colorful children's book series by P. L. Travers, this tale of a prim, proper nanny and the lives she changes is hardly short on magic---and thanks to a solid story, memorable songs and groundbreaking special effects, this Disney classic has held up quite well during the last 50 years. Featuring strong performances by Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke (among others), it's as much a lively Broadway show as a near-seamless motion picture experience. The gravity-defying tricks and liberal mixture of live-action and animation are cleverly structured---but not completely seamless, mind you---with the end result being a fun, lightweight adventure that kids of all ages can still get lost in.
As if we need a refresher course, Mary Poppins tells the story of a proper British nanny (Andrews) and her descent to London. Her vocal abilities are matched only by her etiquette. Bert (Van Dyke) remains a more grounded version of her character: as a dirty but charming chimney sweep, his street performances are genuine crowd-pleasers. Poppins soon encounters Jane and Michael Banks, two young children in need of a patient nanny---and like The Sound of Music one year later, Andrews' role calls for copious amounts of teaching, guidance, song and dance. Her magic tricks delight and amuse the young children (much to the increasing disapproval of their father, mind you), while the like-minded group regularly escapes to more fanciful realms. Bert often comes along for the ride, though the changing winds ensure that Mary won't be in their company for long. Essentially, it's a story of childhood fancy and escapism---and though the show runs a bit long at 139 minutes, there's more than enough here to brighten the dampest, dullest, dreariest days.
Andrews' prior success in the long-running and supremely popular Broadway production of Lerner and Loewe's My Fair Lady made her a shoe-in for the 1964 Warner Bros. film adaptation, but Andrews' role was ultimately given to the more recognizable Audrey Hepburn. This temporary disappointment turned out to be a blessing in disguise: while the adapted My Fair Lady remains a classic in its own right, Andrews was awarded the lead role in Mary Poppins later that year...and the Academy Award for Best Actress, too. Her powerful, expressive singing voice and confident stage presence proved to be the perfect center for Stevenson's film; paired with her co-star's gift for physical comedy, they nearly steal the entire show by themselves. And yes, it'd be even better without Van Dyke's horrible attempt at a Cockney accent.
Though it's been almost five years since the last home video release (a 2-disc 45th Anniversary Edition DVD), this marks the film's debut in high definition...and despite Disney's less-then-stellar track record of pleasing classic film purists, there's very little to make a fuss about here. Pairing a terrific A/V presentation with a handful of entertaining (but mostly recycled) extras, this welcome upgrade of Mary Poppins will certainly please fans of all ages. The timing is a little early for a 50th Anniversary release, but the obvious tie-in to Disney's upcoming Saving Mr. Banks gives it a pass.
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Though some of Disney's recent Blu-ray offerings have been hit-or-miss with purists (and, of course, the fact that many of their live action films have yet to see the light of day), it's great to know that Mary Poppins looks picture perfect in high definition. Some of this was undoubtedly tough material to work with (specifically, the second-act "chalk drawing" sequence), but image detail, color saturation, textures and grain structure are uniformly excellent from start to finish. Much like earlier releases, the film's 1.66:1 aspect ratio has also been preserved; what's more, the earlier zooming and overscan problems no longer seem to be an issue here. Overall, Mary Poppins is a winner on Blu-ray and will undoubtedly (or at least partially) restore the confidence of videophiles unhappy with the studio's high definition track record.
DISCLAIMER: The screen captures featured in this review are strictly decorative and do not represent Blu-ray's native 1080p image resolution.
Like the previous DVD's Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, this new DTS-HD 7.1 Master Audio is a bit more excessive than any presentation of Mary Poppins ought to be, but it's still an obvious improvement. Rear channel activity, limited as it may be, is tastefully employed and the film's dialogue and music are crystal clear. Front channel separation is typically strong and even the subwoofer gets something to do every once in a while. Sadly, the original stereo mix is only presented in lossy Dolby Digital but we also get two French and Spanish 5.1 dubs, as well as subtitles in all three languages.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
Seen below left in DVD form, the menu interface for both formats is relatively simple and easy to follow. Bonus features (while severely limited on the DVD) are nicely organized, though an ungodly amount of promos, warning screens, studio logos and other advertisements must be dealt with beforehand. This two-disc release is housed in a dual-hubbed keepcase with one promotional insert, an HD Digital Copy / Movie Rewards
redemption code, a DVD Copy
of the film and a matching metallic slipcover. The cover artwork is different from past releases but much too plain for its own good.
New to this release are two short and relatively minor extras. "Becoming Mr. Sherman"
(14 minutes) is a promotional tie-in for Disney's upcoming Saving Mr. Banks
, in which actor Jason Schwartzman and Poppins
co-songwriter Richard Sherman discuss the original classic and Mr. Banks
' relation to it. "Mary-Oke"
lets viewers sing along with four Poppins
favorites including "A Spoonful of Sugar," "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious," "Step in Time" and "Chim-Chim-Cheree".
Everything else comes from the 45th Anniversary Edition DVD, which itself cherry-picked a few goodies from earlier releases. These recycled supplements include a terrific Audio Commentary featuring Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke, Karen Dotrice (Jane Banks) and the Sherman Bros., as well as a 51-minute Retrospective Documentary, several shorter Featutettes, a Publicity Gallery, vintage Premiere Footage, a look at the film's Broadway Adaptation, a handful of Retrospective Music Featurettes, the like-minded 2004 short "The Cat That Looked at a King (starring Julie Andrews) and more. It's obviously a fine collection of bonus features, but one or two additional new supplements would've been nice...especially since Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke and Richard Sherman are still around, among many others.
Without question, Walt Disney's Mary Poppins has remained a perennial family favorite during the last half-century, thanks in large part to Julie Andrews' career-defining performance and the Sherman Bros.' memorable songs. The film's lightweight story is somewhat hampered by its surprisingly long running time (which, in my humble opinion, keeps it from the upper tier of Disney classics), but even the youngest audiences should have no trouble enjoying it again and again. This 50th Anniversary Blu-ray is anchored by a fantastic A/V presentation and a well-rounded selection of extras, though you've probably seen the ones of most interest already. Yes, the film's actual 50th anniversary is later next year...but in the meantime, this is a fine gift idea for Mary Poppins fans this holiday season. Highly Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.