Mary Poppins (1964)

Posted by on Dec 29, 2011 in Welcome to Our World | 0 comments


Disclaimer: Scary business moguls and obligatory references to the evils of capitalism.

P.L. Travers, the author of the Mary Poppins book series, despised many aspects of Walt Disney’s feature-length film. Despite the clamor by critics and viewers, she asked Disney to remove a fantastic sequence where the main characters jump into a sidewalk drawing for a brief holiday with animated companions. Never before had Disney fused live action and animation together so well as in this Oscar-winning film about a nanny who takes over the lives of a proper British banker’s household. And he must have known it, because he correctly refused Travers’ request.

Julie Andrews (in her first film role after My Fair Lady on Broadway) plays Mary Poppins, a magical nanny who travels with the wind and, like her carpetbag, is full of tricks. She takes to looking after Jane (Karen Dotrice) and Michael (Matthew Garber), two innocent children mistaken for beasts by inconsiderate nannies and ignorant parents (David Tomlinson and Glynis Johns).

Along for many of their adventures is Bert (Dick Van Dyke), a one-man band, chalk artist, chimney sweep, and kite salesman, who isn’t so much a cockney Brit as a dancing piece of string cheese.

Live action Disney veteran Robert Stevenson directed this film, which won five Oscars out of its 13 nominations, including best actress, visual effects, editing, original song (Chim Chim Cher-ee), and score. It also represents one of three Disney flicks to be nominated for best picture (Beauty and the Beast and Toy Story 3).

Mary Poppins introduces Michael Poppins2and Jane to a wonderful world of imagination and, most memorably, to different worlds amidst their own. The chalk sequence has special significance not only for the song Supercallifragilisticexpialidocious (the Hakuna Matata of yesteryear), but also because it started our fascination with penguins (who danced long before Happy Feet) and live action mixed with animation. I have a feeling it’s also where my mother got the expression, “Slow down, it’s not a race” (which she found herself saying daily around two hyper sons).

Coupled with the nursery cleaning scene (don’t you wish it was that easy?) and the I Love to Laugh sequence, it makes for a memorable childhood movie, leaving any child thinking, “Why can’t Mary Poppins come to our house?” Disney also finds little areas to fill in with animation such as a smoke staircase, fireworks display, nursery cleaning, and several picturesque painted backdrops of London.

The film is marked by terrific performances, including the children who have genuine reactions due to the director withholding certain plot aspects and Van Dyke, who also plays a hilariously stagnant old bank owner. But the biggest standout is Andrews. While Travers loved the casting choice of Andrews, she hated the fact that the film’s Poppins was sweet rather than rigid (the books resemble Nanny McPhee).

“We better keep an eye on this one,” Michael says. “She’s tricky.”

Even though Andrews played the lead in Broadway’s My Fair Lady, the powers that be cast Audrey Hepburn in her stead the same year as Poppins. Her voice illuminates the film with A Spoonful of Sugar, Feed the Birds, and Jolly Holiday. The fast-talking Andrews, practically the first Gilmore Girl, got her revenge on Oscar night, though.

Though the animation sequences  have aged extremely well after four decades, others haven’t fared as well. Perhaps most notably is the women’s rights activist Mrs. Banks, who promptly drops her bold campaigning efforts at the end to become a housewife. Meanwhile, the film positions us to feel sympathy for her patriarchal husband, who is clearly greedy and sexist. Also pay attention to the scary sequences in Mr. Banks’ bank (coincidence?) where they blatantly bash its capitalist structure and the filthy streets of London.

Though it drags at times with far-too-long dance sequences, Mary Poppins is a genuine classic and, like her convenient height, is “practically perfect in every way.”

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