There is no other way to describe Mary Poppins. It is THAT good.
This is a film for the ages and for all ages. Children and adults, especially those who still possess a spark of childhood wonder, will thoroughly enjoy this film, returning to it time and again as they grow older, still getting something out of each viewing.
So, what’s so great about Mary Poppins? Well, everything.
This film was Walt Disney’s magnum opus, his last great masterpiece in a career full of wondrous, innovative movies including the animated classics Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (1937), Pinocchio (1940), Fantasia (1940), Dumbo (1941) and many other notable works. Often cited as Disney’s greatest film, it is the perfect combination of story, music, actors, live action and animation and production values.
The film’s story is well known, but if you’ve somehow never seen this classic, here are the basics: A magical nanny who flies through the air, holding her umbrella aloft like a sail, appears in an upper middle class neighborhood of the Edwardian era London of 1910. She is hired by two well meaning parents, George and Winifred Banks, a banker and a suffragette who are far too occupied with their own lives to give Jane and Michael, their two very endearing children, the attention they deserve and need.
Once Mary Poppins appears, the children are delighted with their new nanny who is the polar opposite of the sour, miserable old women who looked after them previously. From there, Mary takes the children on wonderful, magical adventures. Concurrently, events lead up to a critical point in the film where George is forced to re-evaluate his life and draw closer to his children. Without giving away the details, it is a wonderfully happy ending to one of the most enjoyable films ever made.
This is one of those movies where all the ducks fell perfectly in line. You have great actors playing wonderfully vivid characters. Julie Andrews, in her first film appearance, deservedly won an Oscar as Best Actress for her iconic performance as Mary Poppins, leading to a long movie career with many memorable parts. Dick Van Dyke has never been better than in his role as Bert, the protean Cockney jack-of-all-trades and Mary’s best friend who appears first as a one man band, later as a screevner who draws sketches on pavements, a chimney sweep and finally, a kite salesman. David Tomlinson is wonderful as the well-meaning, but misguided father who gradually comes to realize just how much he loves his children. And the old vaudevillian Ed Wynn leaves an indelible impression as Mary’s eccentric Uncle Albert who can’t stop laughing and holds a crazy tea party floating in the air with mirth.
Then there’s the exquisite music. The songs, written by Disney’s prolific and wonderful in-house songwriting team, brothers Richard and Robert Sherman, are of the highest caliber. You will never forget these tunes once you hear them – the exuberant and ultra-catchy “Spoonful of Sugar” and “Supercalifragilisticexpialdocious;” the haunting “Chim Chim Cher-ee;” the wistful “Feed the Birds;” the rousing “Sister Suffragette;” “Stay Awake,” a clever, reverse psychology lullaby; Uncle Albert’s delightful “I Love to Laugh;” and the joyous “Let’s Fly a Kite,” to name just a few.
Starting in the 1950s, the Disney studio began producing more live action films than animated ones in order to lower costs and speed up production schedules. Mary Poppins, too, is predominantly a live action film, but much like Disney’s earlier Song of the South (1946), it combines live action with animation – and the results are spectacular.
The film’s “Jolly Holiday” sequence is one of the greatest, most delightful mixes of live actors and animation ever conceived. Full of amazing little details, look closely at the animation and you’ll see just how much love and care went into the final product as Bert and Mary sing an unforgettable duet.
Mary, Bert and the children ride carousel horses through the countryside, become involved in a fox hunt where they end up saving the fox, finally ending up in a horse race, which Mary, whom we know by now is a “practically perfect” person, naturally wins, describing her win as “Supercaslifragilisticsxpialidocious,” bursting that most memorable song of the same title.
The film is, indeed, loaded with wonderful sequences – too many to mention in a single review – but one that deserves special mention comes near the end of the film when Bert introduces the children to the nighttime world of a chimney sweeps. This culminates in a wild, expertly choreographed dance upon the rooftops of London with dozens of chimney sweeps.
I cannot imagine how anyone who has seen this film cannot feel good about life, walking out of the theater after it ends and the lights go back on. Of course, my mere words hardly do justice to this masterpiece. This is really a film that needs to be seen and experienced.
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Paul is a writer, editor and radio broadcaster with wide ranging interests including film, literature, politics, travel and history. Currently, he is managing editor of Washington Restaurant & Lodging magazine and produces and co-hosts the weekly DineNW radio show on Tacoma's KLAY AM. Additionally, you can hear him twice a week on New York Radio Korea where he explains U.S. politics to a Korean audience. He lives in Washington state.