Mary Poppins (1964) Director: Robert Stevenson
“Oh it’s a jolly ‘oliday with Mary…”
Despite Dick Van Dyke’s amusingly rotten cockney accent, Mary Poppins is a delightful, charming Hollywood musical that stands in stark contrast to the brooding modern cynicism that pervades our present-day Hollywood milieu. The script for the film is an amalgamation of the Mary Poppins book series by P.L. Travers (published between 1934-1988). Walt Disney’s daughters initially fell in love with the books and made their father promise to make a movie based on the stories. After much negotiation with P.L. Travers, the film was finally made and it became a critical and box office success. The classic music for the film was completed by the Sherman Brothers (of similar fame with Chittty Chitty Bang Bang and The Jungle Book among many other movies). Walt Disney used the proceeds from Mary Poppins to finance the construction of Disney World in Florida. Of course, Disney introduced a sequel in 2018 entitled Mary Poppins Returns. I have not seen it but needless to say my expectations could not be lower.
The beauty of Mary Poppins flows from its blend of live-action and cartoon animation, as well as its simple Disney studio backlot sets intended to represent Edwardian London of yesteryear. The year is 1910 and the Banks family, George and Winifred Banks, are having trouble maintaining a nanny for their unruly children. George advertises for a new “stern” nanny, while his children write-up an advert for a “kinder, perfect” nanny, but he angrily rips it up and casts it into the fireplace. Meanwhile we learn that Winifred is a suffragette and George takes away the children’s kite.
The next day, a long line of dour nannies is waiting to interview for the job when a sudden gust of wind blows them away and a confident but kind woman (in contrast othe books which portray a strict and uncompromising woman) who descends from the sky with an umbrella: Mary Poppins (played by Julie Andrews after a successful stage career and was passed over for the role of Eliza Doolittle played by Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady. She was initially three months pregnant when approached for the role so production was delayed). She presents the torn-up advertisement and awards herself the job. She takes the children on all manner of magical adventures -tidying their nursery (“Spoonful of Sugar”), strolling through the park with Mary Poppins’s old friend Bert (played by Dick Van Dyke) who is a street painter and musician (“Jolly Holiday”). His paintings come to life and they ride carousel horses to a race track (“Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”), a tea party on the ceiling with Bert’s Uncle Albert who has laughed his way off the ground (“I Love to Laugh”), at Mr. Banks’s workplace -a bank- which goes haywire inadvertently causing a run on the bank as well as a visit to an old lady in the park (“Feed The Birds”). Dick Van Dyke also plays the elder partner at the bank in Mary Poppins -in the credits sequence his name is initially shown as an anagram “Navckid Keyd.” They dance on the rooftops with the chimney sweeps “Chim Chim Cheree” and “Step in Time.”
In the end, Mr. Banks is fired from his job but he suddenly finds joy in echoing the refrain “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” along with a rekindled desire to spend time with his children while they are young. The next day the wind changes and Mary Poppins departs. Mr. Banks takes his children to the park with their newly repaired kite (“Let’s Go Fly a Kite”) and he is given back his job at the bank.