Step (Back) In Time with Mary Poppins

Two days ago, I watched the bonus clips on the Mary Poppins DVD. Then yesterday, I watched Mary Poppins. Then today I watched Mary Poppins again with the commentary on. That is just such a great movie! “Tell me more, Blogs From Geekdom!” Don’t mind if I do…

Poppins is the culmination of everything Walt Disney had learned in all his years as a filmmaker. All of the different talents from throughout his company came together in a magical way. Pun intended. Even P.L. Travers difficulty in letting the character go, expressed in Saving Mr. Banks (see the BFG review here), forced the filmmakers to be even more careful with it. We’re going to take a look at what makes Mary Poppins practically perfect in every way.

  • THE CAST – Julie Andrews stepped of the Broadway stage of Camelot directly into her first movie role. Walt saw the natural ability Andrews had and instinctively knew she was going to be the perfect Poppins. Dick Van Dyke had a hit TV show at the time and brought the American audiences out to see him in his hilariously heartwarming role. David Tomlinson, Glynis Johns, Ed Wynn… all perfect casting choices!
  • THE EFFECTS – There are so many different techniques used, I have to break them down:
    Matte Paintings – The film opens with a matte painting of London and the matte paintings are found throughout the movie, which was shot completely indoors! I should say they’re not found due to their seamless perfection.
    Wires – Mary Poppins flies into London with unseen wired rigging. The effect is used again to have a tea party on the ceiling.
    Stop Motion Animation – When Mary Poppins and the children tidy up the nursery, stop-motion animation is employed to make things seem as if they’re moving on their own.
    Animatronics – During Spoonful of Sugar, an audio-animatronic robin whistles along with Julie Andrews.
    Traditional Animation – Obviously, kids love the cartoon portion in the sidewalk drawing. Amusing farm animals, horse racers, fox hunters, and band members all sing along to Jolly Holliday and Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. And the penguins dancing with Bert are the highlight of the sequence! Disney showed what he was best at by putting that part of the movie in cartoon.
    Green (Yellow) Screen – To insert live actors with the animated ones, the movie used a Chroma key-type effect, shooting the actors against a yellow background.
  • THE STORY – P.L. Travers had a delightful story that touched readers young and old. The Disney writers made a few tweaks to give it a running storyline and make it a little more connectable to an American audience. The combination worked perfectly.
  • THE MUSIC – The Sherman Brothers’ songs were written before the dialogue. The songs establish character, setting, plot and sometimes are just plain fun! Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious connects Mary Poppins to the children, Bert and Mr. Banks. And it’s the biggest word you’ve ever heard! Most of the songs have a get-stuck-in-your-head quality to them.
  • THE STYLE – While several movies were made out of Broadway musicals, Poppins was the first film in about 6 years (since Gigi) to be an original musical movie. Poppins had such a Broadway feel to it that it was made into a theatrical play years later. The Sherman Brothers decided to set the story in 1910 rather than the 30s as in the book. This gave Mr. Banks more of an authoritative role and lent itself well to the Vaudevillian style of the dancing and comedy. Tony Walton designed the sets and the costumes to fluidly compliment the animation.
  • THE MAN – By this time in his life, Walt Disney trusted his films and cartoons and even Disneyland to other people, while he spent time working on his new dream, EPCOT. But Mary Poppins was an exception. Walt was the driving force behind all of the key decisions that made Poppins what it was. Walt took an keen interest in how Poppins was coming along.

This movie was decades before computer animation. Yet, all of the magic works. An not “Works for the 60s.” But it really works! Mary Poppins was not designed to be a children’s movie. It was made to be a movie parents would want to take their kids to. So many movies today dumb down the laughs, the thrills and the story to give cheap entertainment. Poppins aimed for quality in every shot and kids still adore it 50 years later!

Do you love Mary Poppins? I’d love to hear what your favorite parts are! See if you and I agree by commenting below.


One thought on “Step (Back) In Time with Mary Poppins

  1. Pingback: I Have No Favorite Movie! | Blogs From Geekdom

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