By Chaz Lipp
The Disney classic makes its Blu-ray debut, nearly 50 years after its original theatrical release, just in time to serve as a companion to the brand new Saving Mr. Banks. If you haven’t seen Robert Stevenson’s Mary Poppins in a while, screening the new Blu-ray prior to seeing Mr. Banks is highly recommended. The new film, starring Emma Thompson as P.L. Travers (author of the Poppins books) and Tom Hanks as Walt Disney, tells the story of how the famous musical was made. It helps to have recently heard the iconic song score by Richard and Robert Sherman and revisited the big production numbers.
Maybe you’ve never seen Mary Poppins at all. Or maybe you have young family members waiting to be introduced to the magical nanny. Whatever the case, the new Blu-ray is the best point-of-entry to ever grace a home video format. Once the very pinnacle of cinematic special effects, Poppins’ magic has been carefully, faithfully restored in high definition. One of the most-honored films in Academy Awards history (a staggering 13 nominations and six wins), Julie Andrews —indelible in the title role—received a Best Actress award for what was her big screen debut. Dick Van Dyke just about upstages her as Bert, the jack-of-all-trades (best known as a chimney sweep), delivering an agile, inventive performance.
The songs spring to mind almost immediately. “Chim Chim Cher-ee,” “A Spoonful of Sugar,” “Let’s Go Fly a Kite,” “Step in Time,” “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” – just try reading those titles without instantly hearing the tunes in your head. They’re all here, of course, and remixed in lossless DTS-HD MA 7.1 audio that blows away previous, lossy home video versions. And thankfully, the mix doesn’t go overboard in trying to elaborate on the original theatrical version. In fact, a 5.1 mix would’ve probably been fine, but everything sounds well-balanced and crystal clear. The 1080p transfer retains all the grain indicative of the film’s age and multiple optical effects (technology of the day require multi-layering of elements, which invariably resulted in some degree of visual artifacts). No, it doesn’t suddenly look like a modern production, but it’s the best it has ever looked since it played in theaters.
As suggested by the title of the new Thompson/Hanks movie, Mary Poppins is, in fact, about the redemption of the appropriately-named financial institution employee George Banks (David Tomlinson, excellent in an underrated performance). Mr. Banks is a stern, practical, and chauvinistic man who can’t be bothered to invest any time the lives of his children, Jane (Karen Dotrice) and Michael (Matthew Garber). When Mary Poppins (Andrews) floats in on a magic umbrella, promising to stay “until the wind changes,” her true aim is to establish a newly-strong, loving bond between the kids and their father. The relationship is believably handled (as believable as possible, considering this is a fantasy/musical), though it does leave their suffragette mother, Mrs. Banks (Glynis Johns), in the lurch without much of a character arc.
The Blu-ray comes loaded with special features ported over from the previous DVD editions. While there’s a lot to explore for those who haven’t seen any of it before, there’s a shortage of brand new material. The “Mary-oke” feature presents a few songs to sing along to, augmented by new, text-based animation. The only other new bit is the 15-minute “Becoming Mr. Sherman,” part tie-in for Saving Mr. Banks (that film’s co-star Jason Schwartzman hosts the piece), part musical remembrance by the surviving Sherman brother (Richard).