This month, Saving Mr. Banks is hitting movie theaters. It is the story of how Walt Disney got the movie rights to Mary Poppins, a character created by P.L. Travers, and while it certainly may be a tale worth telling in its own right, if Mary Poppins wasn’t the incredible movie that it is, Saving Mr. Banks may never have happened. And, because Banks is hitting theaters, Mary Poppins is being given the Blu-ray treatment. Directed by Robert Stevenson and with a screenplay by Bill Walsh & Don Da Gradi, the 1964 film introduced the world to Julie Andrews and is a testament to the magic of movies.
Mary Poppins marks Andrews’ big screen debut (famously Andrews was not cast as Eliza Doolittle in the filmic version of My Fair Lady which released the same year as Poppins despite Andrews having originated the role on stage) and won her an Oscar. It also won Oscars for Film Editing, Effects, Original Song, and Original Score. It did not win, but was nominated for, Best Picture, Director, Screenplay, Cinematography, Art Direction, Costume Design, Sound, and Music.
Okay, so that establishes the film’s bona fides on one level, but it doesn’t really say anything about the movie itself and its reception nearly 50 years later. While without a doubt Mary Poppins looks as though it was made in a different era, it remains as utterly brilliant and fun and magical as ever.
Andrews is pure genius as Poppins from the moment she appears on screen. Poppins may use a tape measure to declare herself “practically perfect in every way,” but, no matter how the character was created by Travers, it is Andrews who makes good on that pronouncement. She is wise and witty, with a twinkle in her eye and an incredible voice.
Opposite Andrews is Dick van Dyke who, even if he doesn’t have the most convincing accent, makes it all work, no doubt in part because his character, Bert, changes jobs at the drop of a hat. No one knows who Bert truly is, only that he has a good heart.
In fact, the entire film is full of heart with Jane and Michael Banks (Karen Dotrice and Matthew Garber) learning something about growing up and Mr. Banks (David Tomlinson) learning something about staying young. Mary Poppins is about exploring life and finding the magic all around us, but not doing so to the point where it stops you from being a responsible member of society. The movie, which undoubtedly leans on the side of child-like enthusiasm, would still have Jane and Michael understand where adults are coming from so that, one day, they too might be adults.
Ignoring whatever message is present though, the movie is really concerned with magic and imagination – being able to pop into sidewalk paintings that you can dance with penguin waiters and use carousel horses to win a race, snapping your fingers so that your room cleans itself, and—most importantly—going to fly a kite.
If I sound enthusiastic about the movie, it is only because, from start to finish, Mary Poppins makes you feel like a kid, staring in amazement and wonder at the magic all around you. You may not be able to have tea on the ceiling, or climb a stair of clouds, but there is something about watching Mary Poppins that makes you feel like you can. With a running time of almost two hours and 20 minutes, it isn’t a short film, but just as with Michael and Jane’s time with Mary, it flies by.
The new Blu-ray release, as one might expect, features some promotion for Saving Mr. Banks, including a talk between Richard Sherman and Jason Schwartzman who plays Sherman in the new movie. The only other bit of new here is a sing-along feature for some of the songs. There are a whole bunch of pieces from previous releases as well, including trailers, and several behind-the-scenes pieces.
As for the audio and video portion of the release, they are spectacular. The movie has been released repeatedly on every form of home video imaginable, so the source material, presumably, was strong before the new digital restoration. Now, it is spectacular, with nary a scratch nor blemish to be found. Colors are impressive as are textures. One the audio side, there is an original theatrical mix as well as a 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track. Both work very well with the movie, and are clean and well-balanced. It is, in short, an equal joy in terms of content and technical aspects.
For Mary Poppins, 50 years later, the effects hold up, the songs hold up, the story holds up, and the message does as well. Mock if you will, but the truth is that every day is jolly holiday with Mary and those who don’t enjoy the movie may, like Mr. Banks, need to spend a little bit more time figuring out what the world is really all about.