My favorite uncle took my two younger sisters and me to the theater to see Mary Poppins when it first came out in 1964. It made an impression on all of us, and later, I took two of my young nieces to see the film when it was re-released a decade or more later. Mary Poppins was a story that Walt Disney had long tried to make for the screen. He had to first convince the author, P. L. Travers, to allow him to undertake the project. This is chronicled in a recent film, Saving Mr. Banks, starring Tom Hanks as Disney and Emma Thompson as Travers. It’s a film worth watching.
But back to Mary Poppins. The film was a critical success, starring Julie Andrews in the title role. Dick Van Dyke plays the chimney sweep Bert, and sings and dances his way into our hearts, as does the perfection of young Julie.
There is magic galore in this story of a nanny who cleans messy nurseries with a spoonful of sugar, and impresses her young charges Jane (Karen Dotrice) and Michael (Matthew Garber) by allowing them all to jump into Bert’s chalk paintings on the park sidewalk for a lovely holiday. The whole experience with animated creatures and the four of them cavorting through this magical world is not skimpy on time, and the whole film in its entirety is long by today’s standards, 2 hours and 19 minutes. (It is rated G and is suitable for any age child, or just the young at heart.)
Mr. Banks (David Tomlinson) tries to run a tight ship, and is not really all that great of a father. His wife (Glynis Johns) is active in the suffragette movement, a wonderful role model for her young daughter, but also lacking a motherly instinct, leaving the children in the care of a nanny. A financial institution employs Mr. Banks, and the greed of his capitalistic associates is simply a precursor to today’s wealth obsessed corporations. No surprise there. Mrs. Banks is the better role model.
There are memorable songs throughout the film, and tunes you will keep humming once the film is over. Good dance sequences as well, most notably on the rooftops of London by Bert’s fellow chimney sweeps. Uncle Albert (Ed Wynn) loves to laugh and his joy transports him floating up to the ceiling, in one of the movie’s greatest sequences.
Some of the special effects are a bit dated, but this was after all, 1964. The film won five Academy Awards: Best Actress for Julie Andrews, Best Film Editing, Best Special Visual Effects, Best Song for Chim Chim Cher-ee, and Best Original Score.
For me, Bert is the most fascinating character. Sure, Mary Poppins is a magician, but Bert is a storyteller, and paired with Dick’s physical agility and a face like silly putty, he steals every scene he’s in.
See it with your kids if you haven’t already; just learning how to say supercalifragilisticexpialidocious is reason enough!