'Mary Poppins' 40th Anniversary Edition
Arguably the crown jewel in the Disney library, and certainly the chim-chim-cheree-est musical around, this lovingly enhanced classic is as enchanting in its 40th anniversary edition as it was on the screen in 1964.
With pre-digital special effects that still seem pretty magical, a re-mastered soundtrack that makes the familiar songs sound considerably less studio-bound than before -- and of course, that winning tale of a family put right by a "practically perfect" nanny and a Bert-of-all-trades chimney sweep -- it's an unalloyed treat.
What's clear, some 40 years on, is how clever the Disney folks were about positioning their star. Julie Andrews had, of course, come to public attention just a few years earlier in the stage version of My Fair Lady, and was only able to play Poppins because she'd been passed over for the Eliza Doolittle role in the movie (which came out that same year).
So when Mary Poppins gets under way in a household headed by a supercilious Englishman who talks and sings very much in the Henry Higgins manner, it's hard to avoid the impression that Uncle Walt was intent on debuting Andrews in a familiar on-screen environment.
Happily, the camera loved her, and she didn't need all the protection. Dick Van Dyke, with his on-again/off-again Cockney accent and rubber-limbed dancing, was also something of a revelation back then -- familiar as a loveable suburbanite from his TV show and a stint in Broadway's Bye Bye Birdie, but not really known for acrobatics of the sort he was put through in the 14-minute "Step in Time" number.
Were they really that young? Were we? Well, regardless, it all looks effortless in ways that make you wonder at the comparative weightiness of contemporary movie musicals.
Bonus features range from tiresome (soundless footage of the post-premiere party) to captivating (a charmer of a musical reunion for Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke and co-composer Richard Sherman, who wrote the film's score with his brother Robert). Highlights include:
» "Chimpanzoo," a deleted song that’s fully storyboarded and sung by Sherman. The composers wrote more than 30 songs for the musical, only 14 of which were actually used (some were recycled in the score for the Disney film Bedknobs and Broomsticks) -- so look for a few to surface when the Broadway musical gets developed in a few years.
» Scene deconstructions: The musical numbers "Jolly Holiday," which merged animation and live-action footage seamlessly, and "Step in Time," in which special-effects wizards created a rooftop from matte paintings, are taken apart shot by shot, so you can see how the elements work together.
» Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, an hour-long documentary that recounts the 20-year courtship of P.L. Travers, the author of Mary Poppins, who declared early on that she had no real interest in seeing her popular children's book adapted to the screen. She even retained veto power over everything from dialogue to the type of measuring tape used to establish that Mary Poppins was "practically perfect in ever way." It also details casting choices (Bette Davis -- gasp! -- was in the running for the lead) and lets you see Julie Andrews making a gutsy joke at the Golden Globe awards show.
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