Saturday, June 1, 2013

Movie Review: Mary Poppins

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: It's a classic - Everything!
Cons: Well, the special effects are dated
The Bottom Line:
Wonderful classic
It's magic for all ages
Can't miss with this one

There's Only One Word to Describe Mary Poppins - Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!

In 1964, Walt Disney released his masterpiece.  It's a big extravagant musical like they used to make back then.  But it also combines everything he learned over his many years in the entertainment business.  While some of the effects are dated today, Mary Poppins is still an entertaining masterpiece.

The Banks family is in turmoil.  The latest nanny has left after Jane and Michael (Karen Dotrice and Matthew Garber) have run away from her again.  When father George (David Tomlinson) decides to hire the replacement, he finds himself hiring Mary Poppins (Julie Andrews) instead.  Mary immediately charms the kids with her magical ways and fun outing with her friend Bert (Dick van Dyke).  Outings like a trip through a chalk painting or tea on the ceiling.  But she is quietly changing the household.  By the time she blows out on the west wind, will the Banks family be the same?

Like many of Disney's movies, this one is based on a book, or rather a series of books.  P. L. Travers chronicled Mary's visits to the Banks family over the course of four books.  However, these books were no novels.  Every story was a separate adventure with very little to connect them.  That is reflected in the movie.  Many of the scenes are self-contained adventures that have very little to do with the paper thin plot.  Instead, they are excuses for songs and dances, as my dad pointed out the first time we watched it together.

And what fun those scenes are.  Kids will absolutely get caught up with the idea of snapping their fingers to do their chores (I still try it upon occasion) or exploring the world of a chalk painting.  And having a tea party on the ceiling?  Absolutely genius.  What kid doesn't pretend they are floating at some point?  And there are adventures exploring the city by roof top as well.  I loved this movie as a kid because I wanted to have these adventures myself.

Add to that the fun music and great dances.  Everyone knows the classics like "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" and "Spoonful of Sugar."  Personally, I have always loved the reverse psychology of "Stay Awake."  I can't help but laugh as Mary sings the kids to sleep by challenging them to stay awake.  There are just so many great songs here, you'll be singing when you're done watching whether you want to be or not.

However, I submit that the little bit of plot is actually aimed at adults.  In between these whimsical trips to childhood, we see George and his wife Wilifred (Glynis Johns) slowly realizing just how much they are letting work and causes (Mrs. Banks is fighting for the right of women to vote) to drive them away from their kids.  Heck, we meet both of the parents before we even meet Jane and Michael, and their self-obsession is set up long before the kids actually appear on screen.  When the plot really gets going in the second half, these two characters, especially Mr. Banks, are once again the focus of much of the film.  While the moral does become a bit heavy handed by the end, it does still feel like part of the story.  And I can't complain about a reminder to enjoy the people in your life and to never let the fun and whimsy of childhood go completely.

The film is very well cast.  Julie Andrews and Dick van Dyke are absolutely perfect as Mary Poppins and Bert.  David Tomlinson makes a good Mr. Banks, although it is rather obvious he isn't comfortable singing.  The two kids can be a fit formal at times, but they work for the most part, too.

The effects are obviously dated.  In most scenes, you can definitely tell when the special effects kick in.  However, I'm going to say that is part of the charm, at least for me.  Yes, they could do a better job now.  But I don't really mind watching something that fooled me as a kid and letting myself get caught up in the magic all over again.  Beside, when you consider the entire movie was filmed on soundstages, including all the outside scenes, the effects become much more impressive.

While major liberties are taken from the books (missing kids in the Banks family and Mary's personality are just off the top of my head), I do love some of the nods to the books.  The biggest of these are the people in the opening scene.  All of them are directly from various stories in the books.

I doubt that anyone would ever make a movie like Mary Poppins again, and that's a shame.  The music is fun and the adventures are wonderful.  No matter how many times I see it, it makes me smile and sing along.  It makes the perfect "Spoonful of Sugar."

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