Mary Poppins: 50th Anniversary Edition

  • Reviewed by: Tim Salmons
  • Review Date: Jan 20, 2014
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Director

Robert Stevenson

Release Date(s)

1964 (December 10, 2013)

Studio(s)

Buena Vista Home Entertainment

Review

 

Dedicated to Memory of My Wonderful
Mother-in-Law Georgia Eaton
1939 - 2014

 

Now that Disney’s Saving Mr. Banks is in theaters, it should come as no surprise that they might want to dust off an old classic from the vaults. Mary Poppins: 50th Anniversary Edition hits Blu-ray with a terrific little package, and one that fans of Disney’s live action catalogue might want to sit up and take notice of.

Mary Poppins, for those who might not be familiar with it (which is hardly anybody over 25, I would think), is based on a series of stories about the title character that were first published in the mid-1930’s and written by author P.L. Travers. These stories feature Mary Poppins being blown in on the east wind with umbrella in hand to a London neighborhood to care for the children of Mr. and Mrs. Banks. Together, they have fantastic adventures with various characters around London, but ultimately, Mary Poppins’ arrival is to help the parents become more attentive and loving parents to their often neglected children. The series was a success for the author, and after nearly 20 years of Walt Disney attempting to acquire the rights to the stories, he helped to successfully produce and release the film, creating one of the most beloved films in the Disney catalogue.

The film, starring Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins, as well as Dick Van Dyke, Glynis Johns, David Tomlinson, and Elsa Lanchester, was a sensation at the time of its release. It won five Oscars (including one for Andrews herself) and captured the hearts of not just filmgoers, but of critics as well. The film’s appeal was universal, and after all of these years, that appeal doesn’t seem to have changed one bit. Sure the film may be dated in a lot of ways, but there’s no getting around the fact that you simply cannot watch this film without falling in love with it. Indeed, you’d have to be a true cynic to just flat out hate it. Cinephiles appreciate it for its use of visual effects, optical compositing and animation techniques, while audiences love it for its charm and whimsy. There just wasn’t a film like it at the time, and it holds up much better than many of the films like it that came after. The reason for this is simple: the story, the characters and the songs have a universal appeal to them. The story is whimsical but it can also tug at your heart strings. I dare you not to shed a tear during Julie Andrews’ singing of “Feed the Birds (Tuppence a Bag)”.

Mary Poppins was also an unusual film in that a lot of the final product came to be at the approval of the author, who had script approval and oversaw much of the film’s pre-production phase. Entire scripts, songs, scores, and characters were jettisoned at her disapproval because, after finally relenting to Walt Disney and allowing the film to be made in the first place, she wanted her work to be well-represented and to capture the books as best as possible. It’s true that the film is a mish-mash of different stories and characters from the books, but it doesn’t feel that way while you’re watching it. As for the music, it’s utterly delightful, and it always has me humming along to it long after the film is over. Robert and Richard Sherman, Walt Disney’s go-to songwriters, wrote some of the most memorable songs of any musical ever made. All of this is well-documented with dramatic overtones in Saving Mr. Banks, of course, but the story behind the making of Mary Poppins is just as interesting as the film itself. It’s a film that many have seen and few have forgotten. It continues to live on through the imaginations of children and adults alike. Many feel that it was Walt Disney’s best film, and for many reasons, that statement rings true. It was also nominated for more Academy Awards than any other film in the Disney catalogue, so me simply saying that it’s a masterpiece would be a bit of an understatement.

For the film’s debut on Blu-ray, the restoration team behind it have done themselves proud. This is a terrific-looking transfer, especially as it comes from a company whose Blu-ray releases are often controversial for many high definition enthusiasts. Rest assured, you’re getting a terrific picture with this release. It’s likely to be the best that the film has ever looked. There’s a very healthy grain structure on display that is never displeasing or distracting, showing off an enormous amount of fine detail. The costumes, for instance, are just dazzling, as is a lot of the background detail. Color reproduction is quite stellar as well, although some skin tones did look a bit too dark to me, the two children in particular. It’s not a major problem, but it was the only time that the color palette looked anything other than stupendous to me, but it’s also a part of the film’s original photography. Blacks are quite deep, and both contrast and brightness are well-balanced. It’s also free from debris and film damage, as well as unnecessary digital tinkering. There are, of course, flaws that can’t (and shouldn’t) be fixed that are inherent to both the film’s original photography and its final print. Compositing full color shots, especially mixing backgrounds and animation, yields white ringing around some of the characters, and the title sequences aren’t as lustrous or as finely-detailed as the rest of the film. I’m very thankful for this, but I do think people are often confused when they see these shots and they aren’t as perfect-looking as the others. As for the title sequences (and fades between shots, for that matter), some of the detail is lost in the printing process and it appears a bit more translucent, as well as a bit dirtier by comparison. In my eyes, these are not flaws, and they shouldn’t be fixed. They were a part of the process back then and trying to perfect them with today’s technology would, to me, be a waste of time. You might as well re-shoot the entire film from scratch if you’re going to go that far.  The bottom line here is that this transfer represents the finest looking print of Mary Poppins as it would have been projected back in 1964, and I am absolutely happy about that. A fine job indeed, Disney.

As for the audio, you get a variety of options: English 7.1 DTS-HD; English, French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital; and English 2.0 Dolby Digital, the latter of which contains the film’s original theatrical soundtrack. I would much rather have preferred the film’s original soundtrack in lossless quality alongside the new DTS track, but the 7.1 track is not all bad. First things first though: this is not a soundtrack worthy of the number of speakers it needs to produce it. There isn’t much in the way of a surround experience. Most of the audio is in the front left, front right and center speakers with occasional ambience and LFE in the others. That being said, it’s still a very clean and clear soundtrack. Both the dialogue and the songs are perfectly clear and sound wonderful. The sound effects and ambient portions, though dated, do benefit from the quality they’re presented in. It’s certainly not a bad soundtrack at all, but going with the original soundtrack in the finest quality available would have been a better option. Oh well, you can’t win them all. There are also subtitles for those who need them in English SDH, French and Spanish.

As for the extras on this Blu-ray, there is quite a bounty to sort through. Previous owners of the Gold Collection Edition40th Anniversary Edition and 45th Anniversary Edition DVD releases will be happy to know that nearly all of the previous extras have indeed been carried over. I’ll get to what hasn’t been included in a moment, but for now, let’s dig in on what you DO get. First of all, two new extras have been included: the Becoming Mr. Sherman featurette and the Mary-Oke sing-along option. The former is meant to tie in with the release of Saving Mr. Banks, which is ok, but didn’t seem all that necessary. The rest of the extras are broken up into several sections. In the Classic Bonus Features section, you’ll find two segments on Disney On Broadway: the Mary Poppins: From Page to Stage featurette and the ”Step in Time”: Musical Number From Mary Poppins on Broadway. In the Backstage Disney section, you’ll find the fantastic Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious: The Making of Mary Poppins documentary; vintage clips from The Gala World Premiere and The Gala World Premiere Party; a Movie Magic special effects featurette; two segments on the Deconstruction of a Scene: ”Jolly Holiday” and ”Step in Time”; and a Dick Van Dyke Make-Up Test. In this same section, you’ll find the Publicity section, which includes the film’s original teaser and theatrical easer trailers, the Julie Andrews’ Premiere Greeting, two of the film’s original TV spots, the film’s 1966 re-issue trailer and two 1973 re-issue trailers. Back on the main menu, in the Music & More section, you’ll find A Magical Musical Reunion Featuring Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke and Richard Sherman, a deleted song: “Chimpanzoo” and a Disney Song Selection option which includes on-screen lyrics. Back on the main menu again, you’ll find the bonus cartoon short The Cat That Looked At a King; an audio commentary with Julie Andrews, Karen Dotrice, Richard Sherman, Robert Sherman and Dick Van Dyke; and a set of Sneak Peeks. Previous owners of the 45th Anniversary Edition will notice that the DVD that’s been included is essentially a duplicate of Disc 1 in that set. It features the film, of course, but with audio in English, French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, as well as the aforementioned English 2.0 Dolby Digital track. Subtitles are the same, and the extras include the audio commentary, the Disney Song Selection option, the Sneak Peeks, and a bonus extra: the Poppins Pop-Up Fun Facts option, which pops up factoids about the film as you watch it. Also included is a paper insert with a Digital Copy code that is also compatible with iTunes.

Now then, after all of that, how could you possibly want to know anymore about the making of this film? Well, there are a few extras missing from previous releases, but for the most part, they’re very minor compared to what’s been included already. From the Gold Collection Edition DVD, the Mary Poppins Trivia Game has been left out, and from the 40th and 45th Anniversary Edition DVD sets, two additional Disney On Broadway segments weren’t included: Bob Crowley’s Design Gallery and a downloadable MP3 of the Broadway version of “Step in Time”. Also missing is the featurette A Musical Journey With Richard Sherman, the I Love to Laugh Set-Top Trivia Game, and a set of Mary Poppins Still Art Galleries. The real shame about these missing extras, to me, is the still galleries. During this period at the Walt Disney Studios, animators and storyboard artists were revolutionizing storytelling in animated form and it’s a shame not to see some of their work represented here, as well as the marketing campaign. You see some of this material in the featurettes and the documentary, but certainly not enough. I wish more of these big releases would include these things, but I can understand why they weren’t included. Space constraints being the obvious reason, but a 2 disc set with all of this material would have made this the best Disney Blu-ray release they’ve ever undertaken. It’s still fantastic, but with a little more room, it could have been a tiny bit better.

Still, after all is said and done, most, if not all, fans of Mary Poppins film should be very happy with this release. It’s nice to see a film this good get a proper release. It’s a classic film, not just a classic title in the Disney catalogue, so it deserves only the best care and attention. And for you intended purchasers of the Mary Poppins: 50th Anniversary Edition, be rest assured: this release is most assuredly supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

-Tim Salmons

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