Mary Poppins appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.66:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Much of the movie impressed, but it lost points due to some mild flaws.
The main problem stemmed from edge haloes. Moderate haloes popped up throughout the film. Sometimes the composited images caused similar interference, but it seemed that most of the problems emanated from old-fashioned edge enhancement. The picture looked alittle soft at times. Sharpness usually appeared pretty solidly defined, but some wider images came across as a tad soft and blurry. The lack of delineation never became extreme, but I thought the movie could have been crisper if it’d lost the edge enhancement.
No issues with jagged edges or shimmering appeared, at least. In addition, print flaws were largely absent. I noticed a few minor specks, but otherwise this was a clean presentation.
Colors seemed somewhat erratic, though I wasn’t sure how much of that I could blame on the transfer. Most hues came across well, with some nicely vivid reds and yellows at times. However, at times skin tones looked muddled; in one scene, they’d appear accurate, but another might make them somewhat brown while yet another would turn them a little anemic. I felt the majority of the colors represented the original photography, though. Due to the form of film stock and the challenges of the photographic trickery, these colors seemed to reproduce the source material fairly well, even with the variations.
Black levels were very good, with deep and rich tones. Shadow detail also seemed fine, with images that looked appropriately opaque without excessive heaviness. At times Poppins looked good enough to merit “A”-level consideration, but the problems with softness and edge enhancement were prominent enough to cause me to drop my grade to a “B”.
For a film of its era, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Mary Poppins succeeded well. The movie originally came with a stereo track - also featured here - and this remix didn't do a lot to alter that configuration. Nonetheless, it added a little spark.
The soundfield remained mostly monaural except for the music, which spread moderately to all five channels. With so many production numbers, the songs dominated Poppins and the extra breadth provided from the 5.1 track helped make them more involving. The most significant use of the side/rear channels occurred in scenes with Admiral Boom. His explosions and their aftermath brought the various speakers to life in a brief but convincing manner. Toward the end of the flick, as a fireworks barrage flew, the blasts and zooms did a good job of zipping past us and even displayed some split surround usage. Otherwise, a little ambient sound like wind came from the side/rears, but the effects and dialogue stayed centered.
The quality of the music was also a strong point. The tapes definitely showed their age - you won't mistake the recording for a recent one - but the songs seemed acceptably bright and crisp, and some instruments present moderate bass as well. Dialogue appeared slightly flat but was intelligible and clear. Effects were also a bit thin and wan but they maintain reasonable levels of accuracy and seemed clean, with occasional use of the lower range as well. Ultimately, this was a pretty strong soundtrack that appeared effectively vivid despite the film's advancing age.
How did the picture and audio of this new Poppins compare with those of the prior 40th Anniversary release? In terms of visuals, I thought the pair offered virtual clones of each other. They looked identical to me, with all the same strengths and weaknesses.
The audio was a different story. The 40th Anniversary disc featured an “Enhanced Home Theater Track” that seemed somewhat boomy and artificial. It appeared to add bass and reverb to make it more “involving”. It didn’t work. This disc’s 5.1 track wasn’t a radical improvement, but I thought it seemed truer to the source material, as it offered clearer, more concise audio.
This 45th Anniversary set offers the same extras as the 40th Anniversary release as well as some new ones. I’ll mark 45th Anniversary exclusives with an asterisk. If you fail to see a star, then the component already popped up on the 40th Anniversary package.
On DVD One, we open with an audio commentary from actors Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke and Karen Dotrice along with composers Robert and Richard Sherman. Actually, the piece expands past that roster and becomes somewhat complex. Here’s the rundown: Andrews and Van Dyke sat together for their own running, screen-specific chat, while Dotrice and Richard Sherman did the same at a slightly later time. Robert Sherman presents remarks recorded on his own in London, and we also get some archival tapes of Walt Disney, director Robert Stevenson, and conductor/music supervisor Irwin Kostal.
Before I listened to this commentary, I feared it’d be little more than mushy nostalgia. Happily, I was wrong. Sure, we get some of the old “wasn’t that great!” but mostly we learn a lot of fun tidbits about the movie. The commentary goes into subjects like casting and actor interaction, the development of the songs, working with all the various visual effects, and technical issues. In addition, we get many fun anecdotes as well.
The women really carry the day here, as they present the best information. Dotrice proves especially interesting as she provides her view from the perspective of a then-child. The archival clips also add a nice sense of history. I really like this very entertaining and illuminating commentary.
In addition, we get a feature called Poppins Pop-Up Fun Facts. This subtitle commentary goes into subjects such as the origins of the story and its path to the screen, changes between text and movie, the author’s influence over the proceedings, sets and locations, the cast and crew, characters and their development, visual effects and animation, the songs and music, choreography, and the movie’s reception. Lots of good tidbits pop up in this efficient and informative piece. It covers the material succinctly and adds to our appreciation of the material. We even learn that Van Dyke literally paid to play the elder Dawes! It’s a fun track.
“Music & More” provides Disney’s Song Selection. This basically acts as an alternate form of chapter menu. It lets you jump to any of the film’s eight song performances, and it also allows you to show on-screen lyrics.
As the disc opens, it presents a mix of ads. We find clips for Pinocchio, Up, SpaceBuddies and The Secret of the Magic Gourd. These also appear in the Sneak Peeks area along with promos for Bolt, Beverly Hills Chihuahua, Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure, Monsters, Inc. and Oliver & Company.
DVD One features the THX Optimizer. Also found on many other DVDs, this purports to help you set up your system for the best reproduction of both picture and sound, ala stand-alone programs such as Video Essentials. I’ve never tried the Optimizer since I’m happy with my settings, but if you don’t own something such as Essentials, the Optimizer may help you improve picture and audio quality.
When we hit DVD Two, the main attraction comes from a new documentary called Supercalifragilisticexpealidocious: The Making of Mary Poppins. As usual, it mixes movie clips, archival materials, and interviews. In this 50-minute and 44-second program, we hear from Andrews, Van Dyke, Dotrice, Richard Sherman, Robert Sherman, author/film historian Brian Sibley, Disney animator Andreas Deja, author Valerie Lawson, cameraman Bob Broughton, artist/sculptor Blaine Gibson, visual effects artist Peter Ellenshaw, costume designer and design consultant Tony Walton, Disney producer Don Hahn, animator Frank Thomas, choreographers Dee Dee Wood and Mark Breaux, and actor Glynis Johns.
The project follows the movie’s path to the screen and Walt Disney’s involvement, the development of the script and the influence of author PL Travers, casting, technical concerns and effects, choreography, songs and music, reactions to the final result, and various anecdotes. A fair amount of the information appears in the supplements on DVD One, so anticipate more than a smidgen of repeated material. Nonetheless, the show summarizes the production pretty well. The addition of archival bits like tapes of author Travers and raw pre-effects footage helps. Overall, the show presents a tight and enjoyable recap of the flick’s creation.
The documentary appears under the “Backstage Disney” domain with many other elements. A featurette called Movie Magic fills seven minutes and five seconds. It gives us a Disney Channel kid-oriented look at the flick’s effects. It’s not a bad clip, but it doesn’t tell us much we don’t hear in the other programs.
Under the title Deconstruction of a Scene, the next area breaks down two sequences: “Jolly Holiday” (13 minutes, three seconds) and “Step In Time” (4:52). Both of these depict raw photographic elements with other rough components and combine them to demonstrate how the filmmakers worked the effects. We already saw a lot of this in the documentary, but it’s nice to get it all in one place as well.
Next comes a short 67-second Dick Van Dyke Makeup Test. The actor narrates as we see stills and footage of Van Dyke in old age makeup as the senior Dawes. The section presents fun shots, and Van Dyke’s remarks add a little bit of useful information.
Two elements connected to The Gala World Premiere appear. We get “The Red Carpet” (17 minutes, 43 seconds) and “The Party” (6:24). The former shows the events in front of the theater at the Hollywood debut of Poppins, while the latter gives us images from the subsequent celebration. Both are quite entertaining, though “Carpet” gives us the more intriguing of the pair.
Within the “Publicity” domain, we mostly find a collection of trailers. Both the original teaser and theatrical promos appear along with one from 1966 and two from 1973. A 38-second Julie Andrews Premiere Greeting apparently was intended for regional debuts of the film; it’s an unusual clip in which she regretfully declines invitations to come to those premieres. Two original TV spots finish this area.
For the final “Backstage Disney” component, we find a collection of Still Art Galleries. This area includes 11 of these: “Visual Development” (36 frames), “Story Development” (18), “Peter Ellenshaw Paintings” (12), “Recording Sessions” (9), “Walt & Friends” (9), “The Premiere” (10), “Costumes and Makeup” (35), “Behind-the-Scenes” (78), “Publicity” (14), “Memorabilia” (21), and “Cast Photos” (18). Despite the title, this domain doesn’t offer all that much art. Mostly we see pictures taken at various venues along with ads and merchandise. It’s a fine collection of materials that can be fun to see.
One deleted song appears. We find a 91-second clip for “Chimpanzoo”. No film footage shows up; instead, we hear Richard Sherman perform the tune while we look at storyboards. This offers a nice historical component, but it doesn’t seem like the song was a bad loss.
Two featurettes come under the “Music and More” banner. A Magical Musical Reunion partners Andrews, Van Dyke and Richard Sherman in a 17-minute and 18-second piece. They all sit around a piano while they chat and Sherman occasionally plays music. We learn a little about the inspiration for some songs, the working process between the Sherman brothers, sets, choreography, and impressions of Walt. The general emphasis here is on anecdotal fun. The three reminisce and go over fun little experiences during the making of the film. It’s a lively and charming romp down memory lane.
Next we see A Musical Journey with Richard Sherman. It fills 19 minutes and 13 seconds as the composer chats about a mix of subjects. He lets us know about modified and unused concepts, and he also discusses techniques used to bring about the songs. We also see some outtakes and raw footage along with basic audio tracks. Robert Sherman pops up for a few remarks, but Richard dominates the program. By this point, I should be fed up of Sherman’s comments, but he pulls out some good new notes in this brisk and informative program. Its emphasis on the nuts and bolts of the musical elements makes it different and enjoyable.
A new short based on the writings of PL Travers, The Cat That Looked at a King goes for nine minutes and 52 seconds. I wouldn’t call it a great cartoon, but it provides some fun. It’s also cool since this is probably the closest we’ll ever come to seeing Andrews play Poppins again.
All of the new extras come under the banner of “Disney on Broadway”. A featurette called *Mary Poppins: From Page to Stage runs 48 minutes, four seconds and provides remarks from Richard Sherman, producer/Disney Theatrical Productions president Thomas Schumacher, producer Cameron Mackintosh, composer George Stiles, lyricist Anthony Drewe, scenic and costume designer Bob Crowley, and actors Ashley Brown and Gavin Lee. “Page” focuses entirely on the stage production. It looks at various aspects of that show’s creation and gives us a good look at it.
This means that we learn a fair amount about the stage musical, and I’m happy that the program doesn’t just act as a promotional piece. “Page” offers a reasonably deep glimpse of the issues that affected the adaptation, so it’s not just fluff. However, I don’t know how much it’ll do for movie fans who don’t care about the stage show. If you’re curious about the stage version, it’s a nice overview.
For a sample of the new show, we get the *“Step In Time” Musical Number from Mary Poppins On Broadway. It lasts seven minutes, eight seconds and indeed offers what the title implies: after an intro from Stiles, we see an entire segment from the stage show. It gives potential viewers a decent teaser. (If desired, you can also download an MP3 of this tune.)
*Bob Crowley’s Design Gallery starts with a 14-second intro from the designer. From there, it splits into four still domains: “Costume Designs” (33 stills), “Set Designs” (6), “Concept Art” (13) and “Set Models” (16). We find a nice collection of Crowley’s work here.
Does this 45th Poppins lose anything from the 40th Anniversary DVD? Not much. It drops a minor set-top trivia game; otherwise, everything from the earlier disc reappears here.
I found Mary Poppins to offer a moderately entertaining and fun experience, and it's a film that's maintained a very strong following for many decades. However, it just didn't do a whole lot for me; I thought it was too long and it featured far too many musical numbers.
The DVD itself is pretty positive. Both picture and audio are quite nice for the most part, and the collection of extras adds a lot of great material. Mary Poppins will never be one of my favorites, but its legions of fans will be fairly pleased with this release.
This becomes the best Poppins to date, but does it deserve a double-dip from fans who own the 40th Anniversary disc? I’d say yes, but only if they’re unhappy with the older DVD’s audio. The new one provides a superior soundtrack. It also adds some Broadway-oriented supplements; they’re reasonably interesting but not worth a new purchase.
To rate this film visit 40th Anniversary Edition review of MARY POPPINS