Mary Poppins, 1964, Walt Disney Productions. Starring Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke. Directed by Robert Stevenson. Technicolor, 139 minutes.
The wind’s in the east and mist’s coming in, causing jack-of-all-trades Bert (Dick Van Dyke) to look to the sky.
In the meantime, the Banks children have acted up again, and yet another nanny is leaving the household. This comes as bad news, of course, to Mr. and Mrs. Banks, who have their own concerns. Winifred Banks (Glynis Johns) is deeply involved in the suffragette movement, and George Banks (David Tomlinson) is up to his ears in important matters at work. Still, he decides it is time to take it upon himself to hire the next nanny.
The children, Jane (Karen Dotrice) and Michael (Matthew Garber) have a list of expectations from the next nanny (have a cheery disposition…must be kind and must be witty), but George will have none of it. He tears up their list and throws it in the fireplace, and places his own ad for a nanny.
The next day there is a long line of prospects, until an ill wind blows them all away. When the door is opened to allow the candidates to come in one by one, only Mary Poppins (Julie Andrews) appears, the children’s list not so much in ashes as in her hands. With her own no-nonsense way she takes charge of the situation and doesn’t give George a chance to say no. The children are fascinated by her, and their awe only grows as she steps into their lives.
But Mary Poppins has a purpose in her work, and all roads lead to a change in the Banks household that will last long after she leaves.
Based on the immensely popular books by P. L. Travers, Mary Poppins is effortlessly delightful. That’s not to say a tremendous amount of work didn’t go into its making. Travers, a consultant for the making of the movie, famously didn’t share Disney’s vision of the film, and the two worked out endless negotiations. The animation and special effects, done, of course, without the aid of computers, are finely detailed. The music, the set design, the costumes, and all the elements that go into the making of a quality film were exquisitely completed, and the subsequent Academy Award nominations were a testament to such.
Mary Poppins was nominated for thirteen Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director, and won five, including Best Actress for Andrews. (Her husband at the time, Tony Walton, was nominated for Best Costume Design. According to Andrews, he was also responsible for the set decoration of Cherry Tree Lane and the interior of the Banks home). Other awards won were for Best Original Song (Chim-Chim Cheree), Best Score (Richard and Robert Sherman), Best Editing and Best Visual Effects.
That Mary Poppins is a musical is indisputable, but according to Walt Disney, it didn’t start out that way, at least not in a traditional manner. The story was written, he said, and the music inserted were it worked, with choreography added later. Rather than the songs dictating the story, the story dictated the songs.
Mary Poppins is a delight from beginning to end, and like the best children’s films, it has plenty for adults to appreciate as well. If you haven’t seen it (hard to imagine), be sure to do so now.