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Dustin's Blu-ray Review
Mary Poppins  (1964)
Reviewed by Dustin Putman

The Film
2.5 Stars
(Release Date: December 10, 2013) – Disney stalwart Robert Stevenson (who previously had helmed "Old Yeller" and "The Absent-Minded Professor" for the studio) directed "Mary Poppins," a box-office success in 1964 that racked up 13 Academy Award nominations and 5 wins (including Best Actress for Julie Andrews)—all the more an achievement considering its rocky pre-production process, detailed in the film "Saving Mr. Banks." Getting this adaptation of P.L. Travers' novel to the screen is all the more impressive considering its backstory, though it should be said that I hold no nostalgic feelings for it. Outside of brief clips, I never saw "Mary Poppins" as a child (I was partial to "Bedknobs and Broomsticks" and "Pollyanna"). Now, seeing it for the first time as an (almost) 32-year-old, the picture isn't quite the emotional or narrative triumph I'd hoped.

The story is fairly simple. When their current nanny quits, unhappy siblings Jane (Karen Dotrice) and Michael (Matthew Garber) need someone new to watch them (their banker father is a cold workaholic and their mother is always too busy fighting for women's causes). Answering to the call of duty, the magical Mary Poppins (Julie Andrews) floats down from the clouds via umbrella and shows up at the Banks' door at 17 Cherry Tree Lane. She takes the children under her wing, expanding their imaginations while guiding Mr. Banks (David Tomlinson) to the epiphany that he has been neglecting his kids and hasn't been treating them as well as he could.

"Mary Poppins" was a technical phenomenon at the time of its release, for one of the very first times combining live action and hand-drawn animation in the same frame. The soundtrack, including songs such as "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious," "A Spoonful of Sugar," "Jolly Holiday," "Chim-Chim-Cheree" and the gorgeous "Let's Go Fly a Kite" are superbly written and composed. Cinematography is also first-rate, painting a mystical vision of London entirely on soundstages. At 139 minutes, however, the film is noticeably padded with overlong musical numbers that do not push the story forward. The plot is deeply lacking, as well, and the relationship between Mary and the kids left me decidedly aloof. Nothing is learned about Mary throughout, and so her character never truly comes to life or has the impact intended, despite Julie Andrews' best efforts. Finally, the children's mother, Mrs. Banks (Glynis Johns), is a terribly neglectful mother who has no time whatsoever for her kids, and yet this fact is never made a big deal of and the subject is never broached. Was it acceptable in 1964 for stay-at-home mothers to still not parent their offspring?

Blu-ray Picture/Sound
 B+/A-

The 1080p digital transfer of "Mary Poppins" appears accurate to source and is free of glaring DNR. There are occasional specks and such on the image, but they are subtle and subdued. Special effects shots are on the soft and grainy side, as expected. Otherwise, the image is pleasing and very likely looks better than ever before (the animated sequences are lovely). What is a bit disappointing is that, picture-wise, it never absolutely wowed me or made me sit up and marvel at the clarity being presented. It's a solid presentation, just not spectacular. The lossless DTS-HD 7.1 Audio Master gets excellent range and depth out of its music and various sound effects (such as the fireworks scene). Since this is a fifty-year-old movie, though, one cannot expect it to have the immersion of a modern-day feature. It sounds great, but is it the most active audio treatment in the world? Definitely not.

Blu-ray Features
Brand-new bonus content exclusive to this Blu-ray includes "Becoming Mr. Sherman" (14:01, HD), an insightful featurette that finds Jason Schwartzman chatting with the man he portrays in "Saving Mr. Banks," "Mary Poppins" songwriter Richard Sherman, and sing-along featurette "Mary-Oke" (7:58, HD). The rest of the special features are taken from the 40th anniversary DVD edition of the film—Audio Commentary with actors Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke and Karen Dotrice, and music lyricists Richard Sherman and Robert Sherman; Disney on Broadway featurettes: "'Mary Poppins' From Page to Stage" (48:06, SD) and "Step In Time" (7:08, SD); Backstage Disney featurettes: "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious: The Making of Mary Poppins" (50:46, SD), "The Gala World Premiere" (17:45, SD), "The Gala World Premiere Party" (6:23, SD), "Movie Magic" (7:05, SD), "Deconstruction of Scene: 'Jolly Holiday'" (13:03, SD), "Deconstruction of a Scene: 'Step in Time'" (4:52, SD), "Dick Van Dyke Make-up Test" (1:07, SD); Promotion: Original Theatrical Teaser Trailer (2:54, SD), Original Theatrical Trailer (4:14, SD), Julie Andrews premiere greeting trailer (0:39, SD), Original TV Spot #1 (0:32, SD), Original TV Spot #2 (0:33, SD), 1966 Re-Issue Trailer (1:02, SD), 1973 Re-Issue Trailer #1 (1:12, SD), 1973 Re-Issue Trailer #2 (1:02, SD); Magical Musical Reunion Featuring Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke And Richard Sherman (17:19, SD); Deleted Song: "Chimpanzoo" (1:38, SD); Disney Song Selection (32:55, HD); Bonus Short: 'The Cat That Looked At a King' (9:52, SD).

Bottom Line
It would be interesting to sit down 2013-era children in front of "Mary Poppins" in order to gauge their reactions. Some would be utterly delighted, no doubt, but the more ADD-prone viewers would probably get restless quickly from the film's unhurried pacing and meandering plot. All the same, Disney's "Mary Poppins" is considered a classic family feature and, for fans of the title and the studio, this is a must-have disc. I wish I'd been taken by the movie more than I was, but I can still appreciate its enduring songs and the technological leaps it made in cinema. With good picture and sound and a wealth of excellent special features, this Blu-ray release of "Mary Poppins" comes highly recommended.

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© 2013 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman