Tuesday, July 8, 2014


RELEASE DATE: Thursday 27th August 1964

Many consider Mary Poppins to be Walt Disney's Magnum Opus; his greatest achievement in all of his years as a filmmaker. Having recently seen Saving Mr. Banks, we all know how much pain and anguish was endured to even get the rights to the story from its author P.L. Travers. Walt pushed and pushed until poor old Mrs. Travers had no option but to grant him the rights to the Poppins books. What not many people realised at the time, was that Walt's life was reaching its conclusion, and a mere two years after the release of Mary Poppins he would die of lung cancer.
Mary Poppins had as its stars a young (relatively unknown) Broadway and television actress in Julie Andrews, and sitcom star Dick Van Dyke. The irony is that Julie Andrews had made a name for herself playing the role of Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady on Broadway, and as the film version approached it was simply assumed she would play the part on screen as well. Jack Warner, the head of Warner Bros. studios at the time, refused to cast Andrews because she wasn't a big enough star in Hollywood. The role went instead to Audrey Hepburn, freeing Andrews up so that she could be cast in Mary Poppins.

After the films were released and it was Julie Andrews receiving the Golden Globes and Oscars, she could afford to be just a little bit cheeky...

Dick Van Dyke's attempted Cockney accent is notoriously awful, one of the worst attempts at a foreign accent ever performed. In an Empire magazine interview in 2003, he claimed that his vocal coach was Irish, and couldn't do Cockney any better than Van Dyke himself. He also managed to play a "hidden" cameo as old Mr. Dawes Senior.

The film was an overwhelming success. Walt used the massive profits of Mary Poppins to buy a large portion of land in central Florida for an exciting upcoming project... And we all know how that turned out!

Audiences all over the world adored the Disney version of Mary Poppins, except for grumpy old P.L. Travers, who publicly denounced everything to do with it. The reason Mary Poppins took so long to come to the stage was because of the contract arranged between Mrs. Travers and Cameron Mackintosh. She would only grant him the rights to create a stage musical if the songs were written by Brits and no one from the movie had any creative input. It took a long time for negotiations to be settled, but eventually a deal was struck between Mackintosh and Disney (after Mrs. Travers's death, mind you...) to combine scenes and songs from the film with new material from the books and with some added new songs by Stiles and Drewe.

Mary Poppins's impact is undeniable. But does it hold up as an entertaining movie in 2014...?

SHENZI: Yes! It's an absolute classic!

ANNA: It's definitely stood the test of time.

MALEFICENT: This is the movie I watch when I'm sick. It always makes me feel just a little bit better.

IRVYNE: I love how it works on so many levels. Sure, kids are definitely entertained. But there's a lot of really biting commentary going on that some might not pick up on. I love how passionate Mrs. Banks is for her feminist cause, but when it comes to her husband she is entirely subservient and obedient. "Ellen, put these things away. You know how much the cause infuriates Mr. Banks!"
SHENZI: It's the movie with the songs that everyone knows. There aren't many people who couldn't sing along with Mary Poppins! I absolutely love Step In Time, even though it's not at all necessary to the plot.


IRVYNE: I would say that there isn't a single dud song in this movie! It's the Sherman Brothers at their absolute peak. One of my all-time favourite (and Walt's favourite apparently) is the stunningly beautiful and haunting ballad "Feed The Birds." Richard Sherman has said how Walt would say to the brothers, "You know what I want to hear." They would play that song for him and he would go home happy.


ANNA: The only scene I don't like much is the laughing scene. I think it goes on for far too long.

MALEFICENT: Really? I love that scene!

IRVYNE: It's a very long movie. Two-and-a-quarter hours. But it doesn't really have any down-moments. It does slow down a bit when the focus goes to the bank towards the end of the movie.

MALEFICENT: The scene at the bank isn't really that long. It just feels long and boring, and they use big words.

IRVYNE: And that's totally deliberate, and I get that. The entire purpose of the scene is supposed to show that the bank is no place for children, they don't understand it and they don't belong there. So in that sense, it succeeds in making the audience feels like that too.

ANNA: My favourite scene has always been in the chalk painting where Bert pulls his pants down so that he can dance like a penguin.


SHENZI: I love Admiral Boom. It's so funny how he just randomly fires a cannon off his roof on the hour.

IRVYNE: That's one of the things I love about Mary Poppins, it's so quirky; so zany! Things like the occasional "Posts Everyone!" scenes are just so off-the-wall and hilarious.

HAKU: They didn't skimp on the details at all. Like in the Jolly Holiday scene, Bert sings "I feel like I could fly." And he flies off the ground for a second. It's just a little thing, but it wasn't essential to the story. The movie is full of little moments of wonder like that one. I have no idea how they made the medicine change colour!

ANNA: And the carpet bag effect is really cool.

IRVYNE: I've gotta admit, that's the first time I've watched this movie where I've thought, "Oh. I never realised the carpet bag trick was so obvious before." Must be because of the HD Blu-Ray-ness.

MALEFICENT: Another awesome effect is right at the beginning when she's sticking her bag and umbrella into the cloud, and the bag sinks. It's just so clever.

IRVYNE: It does feel like Walt Disney was putting everything into this. It wasn't his last film, but it was certainly his last blockbuster. Not that he was directing the picture mind you, the director was Robert Stevenson.

HAKU: Compare this movie to Swiss Family Robinson or The Parent Trap. The dialogue and pacing is so much more refined.

IRVYNE: Those two movies have aged pretty terribly since the '60s. Mary Poppins is still entirely watchable. Sure, some of the effects look hokey now, and Dick Van Dyke's accent is ear-melting...


HAKU: I don't know, I think his bad accent is part of the movie's charm. And even with the effects where you can see the green-screening, or whatever techniques they used, the shots still work.

IRVYNE: And to a kid's eyes, they wouldn't even notice. Speaking of kids, I know a man with a wooden leg named "Smith." No, wait... The kids. Jane and Michael were adorably played by Karen Dotrice and Matthew Garber. Garber would sadly pass away from hepatitis 13 years later, aged 21.

And while the children are cute, the heart of the film actually belongs to David Tomlinson, expertly playing the fairly thankless role of Mr. Banks, the stressed father.

As P.L. Travers suggests in "Saving Mr. Banks," Mary Poppins hasn't come to save the children. (After all, in this version of the story they're quite well-behaved -- they were made much naughtier in the stage show) It's George who needs saving. He is the only one who can pull his family unit back together. Tomlinson not only succeeds in being the insufferable sourpuss, but also manages to have some genuinely laugh-worthy lines. He really does hold the story together.

Considering how opposed Mrs. Travers was to the whole thing, it really is a miracle this film got made at all! She disliked almost every single aspect. Even Julie Andrews, who plays the iconic character and won a number of awards for her performance, was apparently too young, and she smiled too much.

MALEFICENT: She is very different from the Mary Poppins character in the book.

IRVYNE: I just remember the book Mary sniffing a lot. She was a bit of a cow, to be honest. On the other hand, the movie Mary doesn't have very good duty-of-care. She lets the children run away to a strange merry-go-round just so that she can go on a date...

MALEFICENT: I'd like to see Mary Poppins and Sherry Bobbins face-off!
IRVYNE: Mary would win! She's practically perfect in every way! As is her movie!

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