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MARY POPPINS
45th Anniversary Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke, David Tomlinson, Glynis Johns, Karen Dotrice, Matthew Garber
Director:  Robert Stevenson
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby 2.0 Original Mix
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.66:1
Studio:  Walt Disney
Features:  See Review
Length:  139 Minutes
Release Date:  January 27, 2009

"I don't make films for children.  I make films children are not embarrassed to take their parents to." - Walt Disney

Film ****

Movie magic for me truly reached its pinnacle 45 years ago when Walt Disney brought Mary Poppins to life on the big screen.  Here, he was at his whimsical best, like a magician growing ever more delighted at the smiles and gaping eyes of his audience, where he simply couldn't wait to reveal the next big trick up his sleeve.  This is a film that delivers one stunning sequence only to top it with another...yet every frame serves the greater overall story and the development of a multitude of unforgettable characters.

Chief among those, of course, is Mary herself.  Julie Andrews earned stage acclaim for her starring roles in the London and Broadway productions of Camelot and My Fair Lady, and when Walt caught her act on the Ed Sullivan Show, he knew no one else could fill the shoes of P.L. Travers' beloved magical nanny.  Ms. Andrews was interested, but was hoping that she would be cast by Jack Warner to reprise her role of Eliza Doolittle in the filmed version of My Fair Lady, as her stage co-star Rex Harrison had been.  But that part went to Audrey Hepburn instead.  In an ironic twist of fate, Julie Andrews would go on to win the Best Actress Oscar for Poppins, while Ms. Hepburn didn't even get a nomination!

It was a well-deserved prize...in spite of the revolutionary spectacle and special effects, it truly was Ms. Andrews' performance that brought Mary to life, and ergo, the whole magical world around her.  It took a team of creative artists, a vibrant cast, and all the cleverness the Walt Disney Studios could muster to make it all work, but Julie Andrews was the thread that held it all together.

Mary Poppins is a nanny who flies in with the wind wherever she is needed, and we soon learn she's needed in the Banks' household.  The children Jane (Dotrice) and Michael (Garber) are sweet but have a propensity for getting into trouble.  Their parents have distractions:  the mother (Johns) is leading a charge for women's votes in the London of 1910, and the father (Tomlinson) is a serious, stalwart man dedicated to his career at the bank.

Poppins pops in, and soon the children are learning new, wonderful, and frequently musical lessons, such as "A Spoonful of Sugar" making the medicine go down, or noticing a bird woman who calls "Feed the Birds" amongst the busy bustle of the city.  Her lessons are warm and frequently accompanied by glorious escapades.

Who could forget the film's crowning moments, like the "Jolly Holiday" bit where she, the children, and the affable jack-of-all-trades Bert (the winning Van Dyke) pop into a sidewalk drawing in a stunning mix of live action and animation?  Or the show stopping "Step in Time" atop the roofs of the London?  Or the wonderful Ed Wynn as Uncle Albert proclaiming "I Love to Laugh" while lighter than air?  Or learning the word that's right for all occasions:  "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious"?  You CAN say it backwards, but that's going a bit too far, don't you think?

But it's not only the children who blossom under the tutelage of Mary Poppins...even Mr. Banks comes to realize that the real treasures in life aren't the stockpiles of money in his bank, but the laughter and delight of his very own children.  The heartwarming finale "Let's Go Fly a Kite" shows that all is finally right in the Banks' world...and Mary is once again free to seek out her next children in need.

There's just not enough superlative adjectives in the book for such a magical movie going experience.  It took almost 20 years of dreaming on the part of Walt Disney to realize his vision.  It required  sure-handed direction from the venerable Robert Stevenson, a cascade of terrific songs from Richard and Robert Sherman (who delivered an Oscar winning score and song with "Chim Chim Cheree"), a superb animation department headed by the legendary Hamilton Luske, and of course, a wonderful cast of Britons and Americans alike.

All of these elements combined for a once-in-a-lifetime spectacle of song, visual wonder, and memorable characters that families have gone back to time and again for 45 years now.  I've no doubt the next 40 years will be no different.  Mary Poppins remains Walt Disney's crowning achievement...in a career such as his, that's really saying something.

Video ****

Mary Poppins, you look be-YOO-tee-ful!!  Disney pulled out all the stops for this special edition release with a restored anamorphic transfer that has Mary Poppins looking as youthful as ever.  The colors are more vibrant and rich than I've ever remembered, with clean lines, good detail (the Banks house is really alive with props and clever little touches), and sharpness without undue grain.  I can't remember any noticeable print flaws along the way.  You don't have to see past the end of your nose to realize this presentation is one for the ages!

Audio ****

It's a jolly holiday with Mary, alright!  Disney's enhanced home theatre mixes continue to bring the best out of your sound system set up, and you'll notice it right from the overture during the opening credits.  The orchestra sounds vibrant, full, dynamic, and very live, like they were playing in your own living room!  Ambient effects are nicely placed throughout to keep your back channels alive, and spoken (and sung) words ring out with a lovely clarity.  

Features ****

What an incredible package Disney has assembled for the gala 45th anniversary edition!!

Disc One has two main extras:  a commentary track featuring three sessions spliced together.  One has the legendary Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke, one has composer Richard Sherman and co-star Karen Dotrice, and one has co-composer Robert Sherman.  As an extra treat, along the way you'll hear vintage audio clips from the likes of director Robert Stevenson and Walt Disney himself!  It's a joyous trip down memory lane filled with trivia, stories, thoughts and more...what a treat.

Secondly, you can access Poppins Pop Up Fun Facts, which utilizes the subtitle feature to give you extra background information on the film.  Learn who was originally considered for what part, how certain tricks were done, the contributions with author P.L. Travers and much more.

In addition, you can access your favorite songs directly from the menu, or take a look at some Disney sneak peeks.

Disc Two is a treasure trove that will keep you busy for a good while.  You should definitely start with the new 50 minute documentary "The Making of Mary Poppins".  It features plenty of new cast and crew interviews and rare behind-the-scenes footage, as well as, of course, the story of how it all came together.  A musical reunion features Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke reminiscing with Richard Sherman at the piano.  Richard Sherman is also featured in his own "musical journey" segment.

Then go on to "Backstage Disney" for even more...you'll learn how certain tricks were pulled off in the short bit "Movie Magic", or see the "Jolly Holiday" and "Step in Time" scenes deconstructed (including before and after animation sequences).  You'll also find a trio of trailers, still art galleries, footage from the original premiere and party, and Dick Van Dyke's make-up test!

Now that Mary Poppins has found her way to the stage, there are new extras under "Disney on Broadway".  You can see how the story progressed from stage to page in a featurette, or see the cast performing "Step in Time", and even download the tune to your MP3 player.  There is even a gallery of designer Bob Crowley's visions for the theatrical production.

A delightful bonus is the new short film "The Cat That Looked a King" from the original Mary Poppins stories.  In it, Julie Andrews herself takes two children through a pavement painting and into a new animated world.  Listen for the voices of Tracy Ullman, David Ogden Steirs and Sarah Ferguson!

Finally, you get a look at a deleted song "Chimpanzoo" sung by Richard Sherman and featuring original concept art, and a set top game where you have to help the laughing Uncle Albert find his way down!

Animated menus with music round out the disc's extras, making for one of the most fun filled and informative packages your family will ever enjoy!

Summary:

Mary Poppins: 45th Anniversary Edition is practically perfect in every way.  There's no excuse for not having this timeless classic and extraordinary DVD as part of your home library.

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