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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Practically Perfect
by Betty Jo Tucker

What’s not to like about Disney’s Mary Poppins? This forty-year-old film matches its title character by being “practically perfect in every way.” Spirited live-action, clever animation, memorable music, an amusing story, and top-notch performances combine to create a  movie that, even after all these years, doesn’t need a spoonful of sugar to go down well with viewers of all ages. 

In fact, Walt Disney Home Entertainment appropriately calls its 40th Anniversary Edition DVD of Mary Poppins “Practically Perfect in Every Way.” In addition to the fully restored feature film, this DVD package contains some of the best bonus features I’ve ever seen, including a 50-minute documentary about the making of Mary Poppins. A wealth of fascinating behind-the-scenes information is presented here, and I truly enjoyed learning about Walt Disney’s long journey to obtain rights to P.L. Travers’ works as well as about casting decisions, musical numbers, choreography and the animation process.

There’s no doubt the casting of Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke helped make Mary Poppins such a huge success. As the magical  nanny who brings two London children and their busy parents closer together in the early 1900s, Andrews nails the qualities needed to bring this beloved character to life on the big screen. She’s alternately no-nonsense and playful -- but always in command of her whimsical role. It’s hard to believe this was Andrews’ first movie! And her delightful singing voice rings so true, especially in the poignant “Feed the Birds” number -- which, as mentioned in the bonus features, turned out to be Walt Disney’s favorite. Andrews won the Best Actress Oscar for her wonderful work here.  One of the many treats in this package involves watching Andrews accept the Oscar and hearing her very amusing acceptance speech that brought down the house. (If I told you what she said, it would spoil the surprise.)

Van Dyke almost steals this movie as Bert, a carefree chimney sweep who charms Mary and her two young charges. In the “Making Of” documentary, it’s interesting to hear Van Dyke admit he had no dance training before this film -- and then explain how lengthy, energetic rehearsals for the 14-minute “Step in Time” routine got him into good shape. And what a treat it is to see that exciting chimney-top number again!  

I absolutely love the music from Mary Poppins. Disney’s choice of siblings Richard and Robert Sherman as the music men for this film really paid off. Look at these songs: “Chim Chim Cheree,” “Sister Sufragette,” A Spoonful of Sugar,” ”Jolly Holiday,” “I Love To Laugh,”  “Feed the Birds,” and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.” The last one isn’t easy to say, let alone sing, but I still give it a whirl whenever I start feeling down in the dumps.

In one of the fine bonus features, co-composer Richard Sherman serves as an enthusiastic guide for a musical journey. He reveals many of the secrets about the music of Mary Poppins and even presents a delightful song, “Chimpanzoo,” that didn’t make the cut. In another feature, Sherman reminisces with Andrews and Van Dyke about their experiences on the set and what the film meant to each of them.

Rounding out the terrific bonus features are: fun games and activities; a Disney sing-along; featurettes about the film’s gala world premiere and those incredible special effects techniques that gave the movie its magical look; a Dick Van Dyke make-up test; a collection of beautiful still art from the making of the film; and a brand new animation short titled The Cat That Looked at a King (from Mary Poppins Opens the Door by P. L. Travers) .

After revisiting Mary Poppins in its 40th Anniversary Edition DVD, I’m more certain than ever that this movie deserved the Oscar it won for Best Picture back in 1965. It’s truly supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!

(Scheduled for released by Walt Disney Home Entertainment on December 14, 2004, and rated “G.” DVD bonus materials unrated.)

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