Thursday, May 8, 2014

Review: "MARY POPPINS" is Still "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious"

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 22 (of 2014) by Leroy Douresseaux

Mary Poppins (1964)
Running time:  139 minutes (2 hours, 19 minutes)
DIRECTOR:  Robert Stevenson  
WRITERS: Bill Walsh and Don Da Gradi (based on: The "Mary Poppins" books by P.L. Travers)
PRODUCERS:  Walt Disney and Bill Walsh
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Edward Colman (D.o.P.) 
EDITOR:  Cotton Warburton
COMPOSERS/SONGS:  Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman
SCORE:  Irwin Kostal
Academy Award winner


Starring:  Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke, David Tomlinson, Glynis Johns, Karen Dotrice, Matthew Garber, Hermione Baddeley, Reta Shaw, Elsa Lanchester, Arthur Treacher, Reginald Owen, Don Barclay, and Ed Wynn

Mary Poppins is a 1964 musical fantasy film from Walt Disney Productions.  The film was directed by Robert Stevenson and produced by Walt Disney, although he did not receive a credit in the actual film as the producer, while producer Bill Walsh is only credited as co-producer.  In 1965, both Disney and Walsh received nominations for best producer for their work on Mary Poppins.

The primary source for Mary Poppins the movie is the 1934 novel, Mary Poppins, which was written by author P.L. Travers.  Eight Mary Poppins books written by Travers were published from 1934 to 1988.  The movie mixes adventures and episodes taken from each of the novels that existed at the time the film began production with new material created specifically for the movie.

Mary Poppins the film follows a nanny with magic powers who comes to work for the Banks family.  She takes care of two children whose father is an emotionally distant and cold banker and whose mother is a usually-absent suffragette.  The nanny gets some help working her magic on the family from a singing and dancing chimney-sweep.  I consider Mary Poppins to be an exceptional Hollywood fantasy film.  I would consider it a truly great film, except that I think the movie is too long and that it practically has no plot.

Mary Poppins opens in the year 1910.  In the city of London, England, there is trouble at No. 17 Cherry Tree LaneGeorge W. Banks (David Tomlinson) and his wife, Winifred (Glynis Johns), are having trouble retaining a nanny to care for their two children, Jane (Karen Dotrice) and Michael (Matthew Garber).  Enter Mary Poppins (Julie Andrews); blown in on the east wind, she is the practically perfect nanny who will revolutionize the prim and proper Banks family with a bit of magic and a spoonful of sugar.  Of course, she will get some help from a Cockney jack-of-all-trades and chimney sweep, the dancing and singing Bert (Dick Van Dyke).

Mary Poppins has the magical quality that infused the Walt Disney animated films that preceded it.  One reason is because Mary Poppins combines live-action and animation.  This includes an extended sequence in which Mary Poppins, Bert, and Jane and Michael frolic in a world that is entirely animated except for them.  I think some of the live-action backgrounds and environments and some of the live-action sequences were produced in such a way that they would look like they belong in an animated feature film.

The acting is good, but not great, except for the wonderful Dick Van Dyke, who is outstanding in this film.  Julie Andrews plays the title character, but in many ways, Mary Poppins the movie is as much Bert’s film as it is Mary Poppins’.  Van Dyke’s wild, but precise and imaginative dancing sometimes cast a spell that made me watch every moment of his routines.  Van Dyke’s Bert is one of the best supporting characters in American film history, simply for the fact that he supports the film to the point of often carrying the story – especially when it really needs someone to carry it.

Of course, the songs are classic.  The songwriting duo of brothers Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman are American treasures.  Even with silly titles, the Shermans’ songs are excellent and unforgettable.  Irwin Kostal adapts and orchestrates the Sherman Bros.’ songs into a musical score, and he should always get credit for how he translates those songs into music that is important to the storytelling’s mood, action, and drama.

However, I do think that the length of this film is a problem.  The film’s runtime is too long at two hours and 19 minutes.  Some of the song and dancing sequences stretch to the point of turning that which is captivating into something annoying.  Most glaring, the resolution of the Banks’ problems does not make sense.  It just comes out of nowhere, probably because at some point, everyone realized that even this movie had to end.

Still, Mary Poppins has that instant classic, Disney quality of which we all know and practically all of us love.  Perhaps, that is because Mary Poppins seems intent on plucking the audience’s emotions and playing up the good things about family.  However, the film does that with songs rather than through substantive plot and narrative.

Some of Mary Poppins is extraordinarily good.  Some of it made me tear-up, even the last act which I just criticized.  Mary Poppins is an American classic.  I don’t think we will ever stop loving it, and we will watch it again… and again.  It is “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” indeed.

8 of 10

1965 Academy Awards, USA:  5 wins: “Best Actress in a Leading Role” (Julie Andrews), “Best Film Editing” (Cotton Warburton), “Best Effects, Special Visual Effects” (Peter Ellenshaw, Hamilton Luske, and Eustace Lycett), “Best Music, Original Song” (Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman for the song “Chim Chim Cher-ee”), and “Best Music, Substantially Original Score” (Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman); 8 nominations: “Best Picture” (Walt Disney and Bill Walsh), “Best Director” (Robert Stevenson), “Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium” (Bill Walsh and Don DaGradi), “Best Cinematography, Color” (Edward Colman), “Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Color” (Carroll Clark, William H. Tuntke, Emile Kuri, and Hal Gausman), “Best Costume Design, Color” (Tony Walton), “Best Sound” (Robert O. Cook - Walt Disney SSD), and “Best Music, Scoring of Music, Adaptation or Treatment” (Irwin Kostal)

1965 Golden Globes, USA:  1 win: “Best Motion Picture Actress - Musical/Comedy” (Julie Andrews); 3 nomination: “Best Motion Picture - Musical/Comedy), “Best Motion Picture Actor - Musical/Comedy” (Dick Van Dyke), and “Best Original Score” (Robert B. Sherman and Richard M. Sherman)

1965 BAFTA Awards 1965:  1 win “Most Promising Newcomer to Leading Film Roles’ (Julie Andrews-USA)

2013 National Film Preservation Board, USA:  National Film Registry

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

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