Mary Poppins at 50: Still Practically Perfect in Every Way

MARY POPPINS 2Walt Disney Pictures recently released Saving Mr. Banks, an unflattering, based-on-a-true-story film about P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson), the stubborn, selfish author of the original Mary Poppins books, and her uncooperative ways with studio head Disney (Tom Hanks) during the pre-production phase of the 1964 movie Mary Poppins. After seeing this well-made but not wonderful film, I took the liberty of revisiting now 50-year-old classic starring Academy Award-winner Julie Andrews in her first film role and funnyman Dick Van Dyke.

While researching for this article, I was unable to find a single critic with a negative review. All the audience ratings were in the 85+ percentile as well.  Throughout my viewing however, I couldn’t help but think about a few factors:

1. If the children live just down the street from the park where Bert plays his music and chalks out his drawings, then why have they never met before and now meet up everywhere?

2. Why does Bert know Mary Poppins? Has she been in this neighborhood before for other children?

3. Does Mary Poppins live on a cloud? Does she eat? Where does Bert live?

The list can go on for an entire page and I continued to ponder why the critics hadn’t ripped this movie apart. So I put the film on pause for a moment and realized what Disney was selling… MAGIC!

I put aside all my logical thoughts and accepted everything as it happened. I considered Mary Poppins to be a magician and Bert the lovely assistant.  And like a good magician, Mary Poppins never reveals her tricks and tells us so straight out:

MARY POPPINS 4Mr. Banks: Will you be good enough to explain all this?

Mary Poppins: First of all, I would like to make one thing quite clear.

Mr. Banks: Yes?

Mary Poppins: I never explain anything.

Director Robert Stevenson uses mystery and intrigue as early as during Bert’s one-man-band act, where he breaks from his fast-paced song to notice something is happening. He switches to  a different tone and sings nonsense which causes the audience around him to look confused and have no idea what he is talking about. Bert sings his four lines to keep us hooked and not providing us with too much information, then proceeds signing his original song as if nothing happened.

In the next scene we have our first bit of fun as Mary literally blows away the competition and floats down from the sky with her opened umbrella in hand. Surely the most iconic image from the film and one of the most iconic images of all time, and it wasn’t even Julie Andrews performing but rather her stunt double.

MARY POPPINS 3The magic was not just on film, but on set as well. Every step of the way the young child actors (Karen Dotrice and Matthew Garber) were kept in the dark as to how things were going to happen. Stevenson sought to inflict genuine reactions out of them instead of relying on pure acting ability. The scenes with the ahead-of-its-time animatronic singing bird, the different colored medicine pouring out onto each spoon from the same bottle, and a heavy soot-covered Bert grabbing the children as they ran away were all surprises to them. The biggest secret, however, was that Van Dyke also played the role of elderly bank officer Mr. Dawes, Sr. The excellent makeup job would have fooled me as well if I hadn’t noticed the same long dancing legs, but nevertheless, the children recalled wanting to get the scene done as quickly as possible since they were scared of the nasty old man and because they thought he could die at any moment.

In the grand scheme of things, it is the magic of a not-so-simple word planted in Mr. Banks’ head like a seed left to grow and eventually blossom when he needs it most at the end of the story to complete his character arc. This is where the magic and story structure meet to make this film work and to produce the most successful night Disney has ever had at the Oscars, with five wins out of 13 nominations.

So if you’re a logical stickler like myself, take 139 minutes to get lost in a magical movie experience and just enjoy a fine family film. Well, what are you waiting for? Spit spot.

Remembering Robert Sherman Oscar-Winning Composer

Julie Andrews: Mary Poppins vs. Maria von Trapp

Craig is an avid moviegoer and aspiring screenwriter with Bachelor degrees in both Cinema and English.

  • Billy Patscher

    mary poppins is the best disney film on earth. tis a great movie. i love it. theres a part of the film at the beginning that isn’t shown the part where she’s sitting on a cloud talking to her umbrella this left out for some reason. also in the film robin hood starring erol flyn the part form the beginnneing that he meets the wandering minstrol called will mary popins is a movie that should be just enjoyed if u pick it apart u lose the beeauty of it . if u pcik things apart u might as well live in a cave thanks billy

  • Blair Kramer

    Specifically regarding the scenario, in my humble opinion, the MARY POPPINS stage show makes more sense.

  • williamsommerwerck

    Perhaps the only bad thing one can say about “Mary Poppins” is that it’s 20 minutes too long. (I saw it first-run, and some of the younger children couldn’t handle the length.) The direction is slow-paced and unduly “deliberate” (hardly Stevenson’s best work), not at all appropriate for the material. Mr Banks’ parlandos should have been replaced with terse dialog.

    As an audiophile, I do not like the sound. Disney had a “house EQ” that is annoyingly unnatural-sounding.

    • Bumblie3

      I think you are right about the film being a tad too long, but to my mind, its only real failing is Dick Van Dyke’s appalling attempt at a cockney accent., Whichever voice coach taught him should be ashamed of themselves. Van Dyke should have asked Julie Andrews for help, after the superb job she did in the stage productions of My Fair Lady. I’m surprised she didn’t cring on screen every time he spoke. That apart, it is a brilliant piece of entertainment.

    • listener

      I think the reason for Disney’s style of sound mixing is that they wanted their movie soundtracks to sound good even on inferior sound equipment, which they succeeded in quite admirably. On top sound systems, you’re right, they sound strange.

  • Daisy

    Personally, I think Mary Poppins is a wizard along similar lines with Nanny McFee (a name which suggests Nanny is a faerie), and neither are far removed from the Harry Potter school of magic. If that is so, then Mary Poppins is a Hufflepuff. Now, where does that leave the other great wizard of English literature: John Wellington Wells?

  • pocroc

    Van Dyke should have been nominated for his work in that film. I don’t think he was, was he?

  • freethinkingpatriot

    Anybody who puts this movie down has no soul as far as I’m concerned.

  • Kim

    Read the books and it all will make sense. :)

  • Louis Martinez

    Houston, we have a problem….I’m clicking on the topic of “My Favorite Martian Movie” and I get re-directed to Mary Poppins…..Been here and done that……..

  • Johnny Sherman

    I really enjoyed “Mary Poppins Goes to Mars”!!!!

  • Winklefriend

    I wouldn’t think that Ed Wynn’s trip to the ceiling in the “I Love to Laugh” number would qualify for Martian consideration …

  • Jim McC

    Odd to get this when trying to get to “My Favorite Martian Movie.” Does this mean that you are suggesting that Mary Poppins was a Martian? I always thought that Mary Poppins was actually Merlin and her(his) umbrella was Excalibur!

  • jbourne5181

    WTF!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Movie Fan

    Story switching seems to happen quite often on Movie Fan Fare. Maybe it’s a shift in the time continuum caused by lightning strikes to Ms. Poppin’s umbrella as she passes through the thin veil separating imagination and reality. Anyway, since this is supposed to be about the best Martian movie ever, my vote is for “Robinson Crusoe On Mars.” Great story, great special effects, sausage plants and space monkeys. Doesn’t get much better than that!

  • Johnny Sherman

    I guess we need to read the books for it to make sense….

  • classicsforever

    “The War Of The Worlds” – Enjoy it every time I see it. “Mary Poppins” – Once was enough.

  • flamale863

    Invaders From Mars was my favorite as a kid…Check it out.

    • Capt Sa-Vage

      I like the original Invaders from Mars.Creepy and spooky.

  • Timothy Turnstone

    I did not know that Mary Poppins was a Martian, it all makes sense now.

  • Doug Brian

    P. L. Travers was very likely stubborn, but she was certainly not selfish. She was as patient as possible with the awful things Disney did to her book, and very kind to Julie Andrews.

  • Tom K.

    Like Timothy Turnstone. below, I clicked on My Favorite Martian Movies and got Mary Poppins. So THAT is how she could FLY !

  • Johnny Sherman

    My favorite is “Invaders from Mars”. The scariest part is when the Martians inject a serum into the necks of Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke. The next morning they wake up and have become cartoon penguins……frightening!!!

    • Nicolas

      Yes, the Martians have invaded, that is why they directed us to Mary Poppins, it is a conspiracy. I agree that the 50′s Invaders From Mars is great. Also I would direct people to a low budget black and white 63 film, “the Day Mars Invaded Earth”. It is creapier.