In commemoration of the upcoming sequel, MARY POPPINS RETURNS (2018), I’ve decided to take a trip down memory lane and actually watch this movie… for the first time. Yes, I said it. I’ve never actually seen this movie before, even as a kid. Or… if I have, I don’t remember it. I think I saw, like, one scene where Mary and the kids she was looking after were in this house with a guy on the ceiling who was laughing too much and needed to cry in order to get down. I don’t know, is that a scene or am I confusing it with something else? Either way, I’ve never watched the entire thing.
Also, because the week the sequel comes out is a pretty big week for franchises, Transformers and the DCEU. So I had options and knew that I wasn’t going to be able to get to all of them. So it was either this, TRANSFORMERS (2007), or MAN OF STEEL (2013). And while I like those movies fine and would love to revisit them, I decided to opt for the one that would be more universally loved.
Cast: Julie Andrews (DESPICABLE ME 3 , ENCHANTED , and the upcoming AQUAMAN ), Dick Van Dyke (NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM ), Karen Dotrice (stuff I’ve either never seen or heard of), and Matthew Garber (stuff I’ve either never seen or heard of)
Director: Robert Stevenson (stuff I’ve either never seen or heard of)
Writers: Bill Walsh (FLUBBER ) and Don DaGradi (stuff I’ve either never seen or heard of)
Composer: Irwin Kostal (CHARLOTTE’S WEB )
Cinematographer: Edward Colman (stuff I’ve either never seen or heard of)
Editor: Cotton Warburton (stuff I’ve either never seen or heard of)
This is my honest opinion of: MARY POPPINS
Set in 1910. The Banks family, headed by respected banker George Banks (David Tomlinson) and women’s rights activist Winnifred (Glynis Johns), is in dire need of a new nanny for their two children, Jane (Karen Dotrice) and Michael (Matthew Garber), after the last one quit. The parents want a strict and harsh nanny, whereas the kids want a fun and sympathetic one. In strolls the magical Mary Poppins (Julie Andrews), who firmly cements herself as the new nanny until “the winds change.” She takes the children on magical adventures to fantastical places, letting them have fun, but never forgetting that they need discipline and rules.
Man, I really like this movie. It’s so much fun! How the hell did I go nearly thirty years without see this?
The movie may be predictable, thanks to be having seen so many kids films with this same type of story, but this is done in a far more charming way. For one thing, the parents aren’t awful people. George is simply a product of his surroundings. He thinks like a typical adult. You must work and contribute to society, so being a father is almost out of his element. There’s even that underlying sense of just how messed up the Banks’ household really is. He’s almost too happy with the way things are. He goes to work, comes home expecting a certain way of things, and perfectly happy with having a nanny raise his kids, not realizing just how not good that is. The mom is also fairly oblivious, but a lot more doting on the children, acknowledging that maybe them learning how to be adults before they’re ready isn’t the best way to go. Still, she doesn’t argue much. I like how this movie isn’t completely for kids and has lessons for parents as well, and it goes about it rather effectively and in an understandable way.
Actually, one of my favorite scenes is when the kids have ran away from the bank and meet up with Bert. They start explaining what happened, but Bert lays down some tough love and says that he feels more sorry for their father, surrounded by cold, heartless money and feeling like he has no one to talk to about his problems, it’s actually explained to the kids in a very relatable and understandable way. In fact, it’s really emotional. I almost would have preferred Mary to have explained this to the kids, but then it hit me. No one but Bert could have had this talk with them. Mary is a magical woman, but she’s very practical and is more focused on doing things with the kids, not talking to them about harsh truths. Bert is the more human of the two adults and, despite his age, he’s still a kid at heart. He knows the harsh realities of adulthood, but he knows how to explain adult things to kids. He uses smaller words, but uses a tone to let them how important it is for them to listen. It’s pretty subtle, but it’s delicate, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen that in another kids movie before. This movie never forgets that these are kids, and they should be allowed to be kids, not be adults before it’s their time. I adore how this is done.
I suppose it’s time to talk about the lady of the hour, Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins. Honestly, I thought she was a great character. In a way, she was the perfect blend of what both the parents and the kids wanted out of a nanny. George wanted someone strict, the kids wanted someone fun. Mary was both. She walked and talked like a prim and proper woman, but she never ordered the children around in a mean-spirited way. She made it clear that she was in charge, and that the children will behave accordingly, but thankfully, most of the activities she has them do are simple and throws in a bit of magic and fun for them. I absolutely love her line, “Close your mouth, Michael. We are not a codfish.” There are scenes where she’s firm and there are bouts where you see her laugh and enjoying herself just as much as the kids. In retrospect, she really the “practically perfect” nanny that could possibly exist.
I swear, some of these set pieces are going to stick in my head forever. Admiral Boom’s (Reginald Owen) house and his roof modeled into a ship, the rooftop song-and-dance number with the chimney sweeps, Bert’s drawing and the dancing penguins, it’s all wonderful. Even the house where the Banks’ live.
I even enjoyed littler things, like just how prepared everyone is for Admiral Boom’s cannon. It goes off and everyone is scrambling to get to their respective places and keep their prized possessions falling over in very cartoonish ways. Also, I know wire-work wasn’t exactly new in the mid-60s, but by God, when it was done well, it looked amazing. Probably even better then than nowadays because at least back then, the sets were practical and not digital, adding to the realism of the moment rather than being distracted by the glits and glam of CGI. Oh, and the fun effects with Mary pulling out the hat rack and mirror from the bag, it’s just so much fun to watch, especially when you see Michael trying to figure out where everything is coming from. Oh, and did anyone else king of giggle at the fact that Mary was sitting side-saddle on the Merry-Go-Round horse? All I could think about was that scene in the second Princess Diaries movie where Julie Andrews is coaching Anne Hathaway to ride horses side-saddle. Tickled me a bit.
But it’s time to get your pitchforks and torches out because I do have a few gripes.
First issue, the nanny that quits. She quit because the kids are unruly and “beasts.” Um… those children seem well-behaved. They certainly allude to pranks that they’ve pulled, but we never see that behavior out of them during the movie. They don’t try to pull pranks on Mary, which I think is a real shame. Imagine the comedic possibilities of Mary avoiding pranks like a pro, or turning them on the children in some way. Either way, these kids seemed rather adorable and not at all little monsters.
Van Dyke is not my favorite contributor to the story. Let’s get the obvious out of the way, his accent is all over the place and seems to try and encompass both the traditional English accent with Scottish. It doesn’t work. At all. Which really baffles me because he’s surrounded by native English speakers. One would think someone could calibrate his inflections. Also, why does Bert break the fourth wall and talk to the audience? I already have issues with pointless narrations, but characters who actively break the fourth wall (who aren’t Deadpool) is like putting a face on that pointless narrating. What makes it particularly strange is that it’s not consistent. Bert only does it a couple times. It’s not like he’s walking around as the scenes play out to offer his input. Just his first couple scenes.
I think we also spend a little too much time in Bert’s drawing. Upon arrival in the drawing, the movie just sort of stops to show off that Mary and Bert are semi, quasi-romantically interested in each other, while letting the children go off on their own in a strange land. Then there was the fox catching scene, the race horse, it just seemed more on par with Alice in Wonderland. No direction or drive, just randomness. I feel like I understand what it was trying to go for, just having some fun, but it just goes on forever. Cut out “Jolly Holiday” and just keep the horse racing, along with “Supercalifragilistic” and you’ve got yourself a shorter, but a fun enough scene that gets the point across.
About the only real problem that I have with Mary is during the scene with Uncle Albert (Ed Wynn). Why is she suddenly so against laughter and having tea on the ceiling? How is this any more or less than all of the other fantastical things that these kids have experienced. I don’t know, there’s something a little out of character with her in this bit.
On a more technical level, the ADR is off a few times, much more noticeably in the song and dance number, “A British Bank” with David Tomlinson and Andrews. It’s almost painfully obvious that the singing is louder and clearer than the speaking voices. It’s pretty distracting for me. On a narrative level, I won’t lie, I didn’t understand the point of the song about the bird lady. Was it just another lullaby, but with… imagery that would later inspire HOME ALONE 2? I didn’t quite get that one.
Overall, I really liked this movie. It’s got a lot of catchy songs, “A Spoonful of Sugar” and “Chim Chim Cheree” being my favorites, as well as “Jolly Holiday,” mostly for how well the live-action and the animation is incorporated with each other, despite how pointless the scene actually is. I may have a few gripes here and there, but nothing that cripples the flick as a whole. I say if you haven’t seen this, then you should. I can’t believe I missed out on this in my childhood (to my knowledge), and I think no child should go without experiencing this.
My honest rating for MARY POPPINS: a strong 4/5