MaryPoppinscoverGrade:  A-
Entire family:  Yes
1964, 139 min., Color
Not rated (would be G)
Aspect ratio: 1.66:1
Featured audio: DTS-HD MA 7.1
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital Copy
Bonus features: B+

Mary Poppins stands with The Wizard of Oz as one of the all-time great children’s films adapted from books, and one reason is certainly the memorable music.  Richard and Robert Sherman won an Oscar for Best Original Score, which included that long and hard-to-spell word “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” Best Song Oscar winner “Chim Chim Cher-ee,” “A Spoonful of Sugar,” “Jolly Holiday,” “Let’s Go Fly a Kite,” “I Love to Laugh,” and Disney’s personal favorite, “Feed the Birds.”

Mary Poppins also won an Oscar for Special Visual Effects, blending traditional painted cell animation with cutting-edge audio-animatronics, stop-motion animation, reverse filming, sophisticated wire work, and sodium vapor screens (for combining live-action with cartoon characters). And those effects look oh-so-much-better on Blu-ray than I expected, given how the HD treatment exposed the live action/animation magic in Pete’s Dragon. Disney, whose 20-year attempt to obtain the rights to the P.L. Travers books to make a film he had promised his daughter, would have been delighted with this release. And we’re talking about someone who was hands-on throughout the process. 

To get the rights, Disney had to give Travers script approval, but when she objected to the Sherman brothers songs, wanting only such period music as “Ta Ra Ra Boom De Ay” and “Greensleeves,” Disney drew the line and said she had “script” but not “final draft” approval. Good thing, because the songs give the film a layer of charm on top of everything else.

MaryPoppinsscreenEverything else, of course, would be the special visual effects, the cinematography, and a top-notch cast. Julie Andrews won her only Oscar for playing the title character, and it was a sweet victory because Jack Warner denied her the part of Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady that she had been playing on Broadway, giving it to Audrey Hepburn instead. She beat out Hepburn for the Oscar, and in retrospect Mary Poppins was a much better fit, just as Maria would be for her in The Sound of Music a year later. Funnyman Dick Van Dyke is superb as her friend/sidekick Bert, despite a Cockney accent that’s as fake as a silver farthing.

You can go up and down the cast list, really, and applaud the choices, and Disney’s delightful musical manages to charm on so many levels you kind of stop counting. More than Eliza, Mary Poppins is a bit of a fairytale character, and that alone makes her timeless. Like Peter Pan, she flies into London circa the early 1900s when children are in need of help. In this case, the super-nanny with magical powers answers an ad placed by two mischievous children. Jane and Michael Banks (Karen Dotrice and Matthew Garber) have driven off every nanny so far, and their parents are too involved with work and the suffragette movement to give the children the attention they crave.

Leave it to Mary Poppins to teach them how to behave and, with the help of chimney sweep/street artist Bert (Van Dyke), show them how to cut loose and enjoy life—a lesson also eventually learned by their parents, George (David Tomlinson) and Winifred (Glynis Johns). As with any “sweeping” epic or musical, some scenes go on a bit too long—like the chimneysweep dance number, which approaches 15 minutes—but the magic is maintained throughout this classic, which, like its namesake, is practically perfect in every way. Van Dyke and Andrews have great chemistry together, but it’s really her interaction with the children and the magic of the story and the visual effects that charm audiences.