Walt Disney pursued the rights to P.L. Traver’s Mary Poppins books for decades before she finally relented. Even then, she retained script approval and was apparently a pain in everyone’s chim chim-in-ey throughout the entire process of making the movie. She rather hated the final product and bad-mouthed it until the day she died.
One can understand how a writer might be protective of their work and might be hesitant to allow movie-makers (even one as beloved as Walt Disney) to have their way with the writings. But in this case one has to wonder if there wasn’t something terribly off about Ms. Travers.
Mary Poppins is one of the most beloved, most wonderful, most practically perfect family movies of all time. When I showed my wife the Blu-ray box to this 50th anniversary edition, she squealed with delight. When I played the movie for my "can’t-sit-still-for-ten-seconds," 2.5-year-old daughter, she sat enthralled through the entire film. Only periodically running over to me shouting something like “Daddy, daddy, she’s in the clouds!” or “Daddy, they are flying!”
The books are a series of not very connected adventures with Mary Poppins and the children. The movie selected a few of these and tried to connect them by having Mary essentially save the family. Father (David Tomlinson) and Mother (Glynis Johns), you see, are very busy with their own lives. Father is a bank executive and spends nearly every waking hour there, and mother is terribly busy with the suffragette movement. Neither has much time for the children so they hire an ever-changing series of nannies. The children, it seems, are rather troublesome and tend to run the nannies ragged until they quit out of exhaustion.
Enter our Mary Poppins, who uses a firm, but magical, hand to teach the children that even chores can be fun if one only makes it a game (and sings a song, and uses her special powers.) They go on various adventures with Bert (Dick Van Dyke), which include winning races atop carousel horses, laughing until they fly, and dancing with acrobatic, chimney sweeps.
Mary quickly wins the children over and the parents too, by showing them that it isn’t work and movements that make life worth the living, but those you love. Ah, I don’t need to tell you about the plot, or what a delight Mary Poppins is; everyone knows it already.
The 50th Anniversary Edition gives us the film's Blu-ray debut (and comes with a DVD and digital copy as well.) It is a lovely MPEG-4 AVC encode and is framed in the original 1.66:1 aspect ratio. It was digitally restored for high definition and looks marvelous. Colors are bright and bold; blacks are dark and dynamic. The resolution is marvelous. There are some noticeable flaws during the special effects, especially animated sequences, but this comes from the difficulties with the techniques of the day and not so much this new transfer. The sound comes with an English 7.1 mix and it sounds quite wonderful. The dialogue takes center stage and is always quite clear. The marvelous score fills out the multichannel soundstage and it sounds beautifully.
Sadly, it is the extras that make this edition less than perfect. The vast majority of them come from earlier editions. Disney, ever the studio to suck as much cash from its fans as possible, has previously released the film on DVD in a 45th anniversary edition, a 40th, as well as several others. For the 50th edition, they simply stole most of the extras from those, adding in only a couple of brand new features.
Out of the two (yes, only two) new features, the best one is really nothing more than an excuse to promote the upcoming film, Saving Mr. Banks, which is about the making of Mary Poppins. Jason Schwartzman, who plays Richard Sherman in that film, interviews the real Mr. Sherman. Out of its 14-minute running time, it is mainly clips of Mary Poppins and Saving Mr. Banks. However their are some nice anecdotes about making the music and a few clips of the original demo recordings. The other new feature is nothing but an animated karaoke bit with several of the songs.
The recycled extras include a long documentary about the Mary Poppins musical that came out a few years ago, a couple of scene deconstructions that show how the special effects were layered in, some premiere-party footage, loads of trailers, and TV spots. The most interesting feature comes from the 40th anniversary edition (and we know this because narrator Dick Van Dyke come out talking about how he can’t believe it's been 40 years since the film was made.) Ten years old or not, it's 48 minutes of fascinating behind the scenes information about the film.
For 50 years, Mary Poppins has been delighting audiences and it will no doubt continue to enthrall them for 50 years to come, and more. It is a wonderful for family-film lovers, Disney buffs, and film fans of all stripes and sizes. The movie is a must-have for any serious collector. However, this particular version cannot wholly be recommended. If you do not yet have a copy of it, then I would certainly say this is the version to get. But if you purchased the earlier anniversary editions, then there really isn’t enough here to make it worth the extra purchase. That being said the film comes highly recommended.