Mary Poppins

Directed By: Robert Stevenson

Starring: Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke, David Tomlinson, Glynis Johns, Karen Dotrice, and Matthew Garber

It's hard to believe Mary Poppins will be celebrating its 50th anniversary next year.  The festivities get kicked off early this winter with the upcoming awards contender Saving Mr. Banks, a film starring Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks that chronicles the making of this classic musical.  This adaptation of P.L. Travers' children's books is a film that is as timeless as it is beloved.  It's a sweet, entertaining cinematic experience with many iconic Disney tunes. It's the one and only Mary Poppins.  In the words of a famous British nanny, "Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down in a most delightful way."

It's 1910.  Performing out in the streets for several onlookers, Bert (Dick Van Dyke) senses a change in the wind marking the return of an old friend.  At the once "Ship Shape" Banks household nearby at 17 Cherry Tree Lane, the family's nanny is submitting her resignation.  Frustrated with Jane (Karen Dotrice), Michael (Matthew Garber), and their nasty habit of running away, she's leaving for good.  Given that their mother Winifred Banks (Glynis Johns) has selected the last several nannies who have all been quick to quit, the children's father George Banks (David Tomlinson) has opted to choose their next nanny.  The banker takes a more strategic approach by putting an advertisement in the local newspaper.  He wants someone who knows the value of discipline.  He wants a British nanny who's a general.

Jane and Michael also draft an advertisement and hand it over to their father. Quick to dismiss their effort as a request for a grown-up playmate, George rips up the advertisement and throws it in their fireplace.  What he doesn't notice is that a magical wind whisks these shreds of paper into the night sky.  The next day, a mob of older women show up looking for the job based on George's advertisement in the paper.  They never actually make it into the Banks household, however.  A mysterious gust of wind blows all the applicants away.  It also blows in Bert's old friend Mary Poppins (Julie Andrews), who just happens to have Jane and Michael's advertisement in her possession.  Interviewing with Mr. Banks for the job, she's quickly hired to tend to Jane and Michael.  With her cheery disposition and rosy cheeks, Mary Poppins injects an element of much-needed fun into the Banks household.

There's only one word to describe Mary Poppins, supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.  This remarkable musical is quintessentially Disney.  With infectious tunes such as "Spoonful of Sugar", "Feed the Birds", and "Chim Chim Cher-ee", it's hard not to tap your feet.  With great visual effects for the era and stage-like production value, it's hard not to get immersed in what feels like a very personal film.  Lastly, with a host of talented actors giving heartwarming performances, it's hard not to get attached to the lovable characters they bring to life.  Simply put, you can't deny the magic of Mary Poppins.  It is truly one-of-a-kind.

I can't compliment the music of Mary Poppins enough.  The songs of this movie have endured for generations.  With grand orchestral arrangements, "Disneyfied" choreography, and heavenly vocals from our star Julie Andrews, each song is performed flawlessly.  Beyond this, the actors imbue each musical number with the right emotions for the moment.  Of all the wonderful tunes, "Spoonful of Sugar" is my favorite selection from the film (if that isn't obvious already).  It perfectly embodies the playful, upbeat energy that's at the heart of this movie.  With music like this, Mary Poppins offers some of the best Disney tunes of its era or any era.

The filmmaking itself is quite beautiful as well.  First, director Robert Stevenson gives us one rich visual treat with lush colors and backgrounds.  For instance the opening shot of London and a purplish-tinted night sky is downright gorgeous.  It sets the stage for a wondrous children's tale.  Second, the special effects are nothing short of dazzling.  Mixing live action and animation allows Stevenson to take moviegoers to all the magical places Poppins takes Jane and Michael throughout the film.  It's a delightful way to circumvent the technological limitations of the era and to help us be part of the fantasy.  Finally, what's most impressive about the production is its stage-like quality.  From my vantage point, the set design is very much akin to what one would find on stage in theatre with a few cinematic flourishes.  Though this is a function of the era in which the film was made to some extent, it really makes Mary Poppins feel like something that could be unfolding in front of you live.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the actors and their charming performances.  First and foremost, Julie Andrews knocks it out of the park in her big screen debut.  She certainly delights us with her angelic voice as she brings many beloved Disney tunes to life.  More importantly, she delivers a nuanced performance as a stern caretaker with a gooey center.  Bringing both biting wit and an effervescent personality to the big screen as our titular character, she quickly establishes herself as a force in Hollywood.  As her versatile friend Bert, Dick Van Dyke gives one silly performance.  He's definitely the jokester of the film and goofs around quite a bit on screen.  However, he also brings quite a bit of heart as a mentor for Michael and Jane.  We also have strong supporting performances from the Scrooge-like David Tomlinson and the bubbly Glynis Johns as David and Winifred Banks respectively.

Mary Poppins is undoubtedly a fun, cheery film, but it hasn't necessarily stood the test of time.  With its overabundance of cheer, it is indeed a little dated.  This relic of a bygone era in cinema may have one too many spoons of sugar.  For the kids, I'm sure the magic of a film this wondrous endures.  However, its magic has waned a little for adults.  Still, that's nothing about which to fret.  It's an enchanting experience.  Mary Poppins gets a strong 0.03% rating.  Since I'm not recommending anything more than wine coolers, go get some fresh air and fly a kite.  Mary Poppins is a sentimental movie all about enjoying the world around us.