Movies can also age with grace, benefiting from the incredible dedication of restoration experts and film historians to recapture some of the luster that was somehow stolen by the years. This is especially so with films that were fantastic to start with, and so it is with Mary Poppins as she bows in a very special 40th Anniversary DVD.
With the Mary Poppins: 40th Anniversary Edition DVD set, it?s a jollier holiday with Mary -- if that?s even possible! This two-DVD package is everything Poppins you?ve ever wanted and more.
Reviewers that assume that everyone is hip with the story (especially for a movie originally minted in -- wait, wait, don?t tell me -- 40 years ago) should be voted onto ?The Real Gilligan?s Island.? Fade in on London; the year is 1910. The curtain goes up on a tall, gawky guy, Bert (Dick Van Dyke), giving a one man band performance in the park. A multi-faceted everyman who is the glue that holds much of the movie together, Bert begins the film by ushering the viewer along towards the household of Mr. and Mrs. Banks (David Tomlinson and Glynis Johns, respectively). It appears that the two Banks kids, Jane (Karen Dotrice) and Michael (Matthew Garber), are constantly AWOL and their nanny is quitting because of it. Without various nannies, the Banks would have been targeted by Child Protective Services long ago. Pops, a bank officer, and mums, a strident suffragette, have only a vague notion of what?s going on with their kiddies, but, hey, it?s 1910 and folks were a lot more forgiving then.
After a lengthy bit of amusing exposition, enter Mary Poppins (Julie Andrews), a new nanny that calms everyone?s fears, including (very gradually) the kids?. She arrives with a carpet bag that does more for home d?cor than a subscription to ?Martha Stewart Living,? various flavors of yummy medicine, the ability to slide up banisters, a penchant for hopping into chalk drawings, and knowledge of the longest, most nonsensical word in probably any language (except Swahili -- the Google search on Swahili hadn?t returned prior to this review being posted). In short order, Mary Poppins (with the help of Bert... sometimes) get everything moving in a positive direction.
Various marvelous twists and turns take the Banks kids on a high-spirited voyage of discovery that eventually involves dear old dad in a way that doesn?t start off too pleasing. While no computers were used in the making of this film, not even the hardest hearted CGI fan can find fault with the Disney animation staff?s ability to breathe amazingly colorful life into carousel racehorses, delinquent penguins, Uncle Albert?s tea party, unemployed nannies, and various other goofy plot twists.
What?s most important to cover in a review of this sort of package is what?s up with the extras. Here are the high (many) and low (few) points:
Audio: Five audio tracks are enough, aren?t they? Well, 40th Poppins has five, plus commentaries (Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke, along with Daren Dotrice and co-songwriter Richard Sherman). Modern audiophiles will choose the Dolby Digital 5.1 Enhanced Home Theater mix. It?s better than a chimney sweep helping you with your nose hair trimmer.
Video: Presentation in anamorphic 1.66:1 is the best choice for this picture. Scenes with eye popping colors, like ?Jolly Holiday,? clean up best. ?Step in Time,? featuring a bevy of grubby sweeps, still looks a bit muddled. Overall, even on an ancient Magnavox, this is the best video ever available.
Other Extras: Along with the commentaries, the movie disc contains Disney?s Song Selection which allows kids of all ages to jump directly to eight of the 13 songs with optional lyrics. There?s a Play All choice if you just want to run through ?em. What, no shuffle?
Disc #2 is chock full of goodies. The 51-minute Supercalifragilisticexpiealidocious: The Making of Mary Poppins traces the development, filming, and post production of this classic film. It includes interviews with nearly all of the key actors and many behind the scenes people, too. There are tons of footage of ?Jolly Holiday? without the animation, showing just how talented Andrews and Van Dyke were to be able to sing and dance without being able to see their cartoon partners. Other features (A Mary Poppins Musical Reunion and A Musical Journey) bring the original cast back together and shed light on the origins of the film?s songs. The latter concludes with Sherman singing ?Chimpanzoo,? a song that was cut by Walt the day before it was to be recorded.
The Movie Magic of Mary Poppins shows how all the special effects were accomplished. A pair of Deconstruction of a Scene featurettes show two numbers (again, ?Jolly Holiday? and ?Step in Time?) prior to animation overlay. The visuals are then dubbed in as the songs progress. This is a highlight reel of the extras since it completely debunks the myth that anything filmed before Star Wars was hackneyed. Dick Van Dyke?s makeup test shows him wearing test makeup as the elder Mr. Dawes (the Senior Partner at Banks? bank). The makeup test gives Van Dyke time to retell how he got the part (first heard on the main commentary). Historical footage is included from the movie?s premiere, and there?s a behind-the-scenes peek into the Party that was held afterward. Everything is edited to radio interviews and other dubs from the time.
Publicity materials include two Theatrical Teasers and a greeting from Julie Andrews that ran at premieres she couldn?t attend. There are two 30-second TV spots, three minute-long re-issue trailers, and an art gallery of stills that includes about 300 images denoting all facets of the productions and art direction.
The Cat That Looked at a King is a new animated short adapted from the book Mary Poppins Opens the Door. It?s about a cat that challenges a king to a battle of wits and features more current voice actors like David Ogden Stiers, Tracey Ullman, and Sarah Ferguson.
Lastly, and actually quite leastly, there is a set-top game called I Love to Laugh where you can answer questions to help bring Uncle Albert down from his aerial heights.
Judging by today?s standards, the extras on Mary Poppins: 40th Anniversary Edition may seem a bit light. However, when you consider that the movie was made when ?extras? were still just background people on a movie set; before home computers were even a gleam in some inventor?s eye; and when DVD was a 3-letter acronym without any particular meaning, the folks at Disney and Buena Vista Home Entertainment really went the extra mile to deliver a complete package that offers something for everyone.
While one of these digital DVD gems might simply float down to you out of the clouds beneath a magical umbrella, don?t count on it. You?re better off hopping into any chalk drawing near you, one that happens to feature a video store.
Better yet, draw one yourself!