December 13, 2013
Are you looking for that unusual family Christmas gift? Here's a fresh refreshing idea:
- The Walt Disney 50th Anniversary Blu-ray, Mary Poppins
- The children's book, Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers, (or any one or more of the 8 book-series from which the film stories are drawn)
- Two tickets (or more) to the just released movie Saving Mr. Banks
How often does this convergence of media occur in time for the holidays? How often does such a combination reach, entertain and satisfy multiple generations? And how often do such stellar distinct talents from so many divergent artistic crafts unite for a single motif?
Pamela Travers wrote the classic series, her most acclaimed and popular children's books. The movie version is often anointed as Walt Disney's masterpiece (which won him the Best Picture Academy Award in 1964). Its star, Julie Andrews, launched her legendary musical/movie career and won an Academy Award as Best Actress. Brother songwriters Richard M. and Robert Sherman won Oscars for Best Original Song ("Chim Chim Cher-ee") and Best Original Score. (The movie received thirteen nominations and five AA awards.)
P.L. Travers, Julie Andrews and Emma Thompson (as Travers)
And Academy Award winners Emma Thompson (as author Travers) and Tom Hanks (as Disney) were cast in the leading roles in Saving Mr. Banks - the quasi bio-pic about the making of the Mary Poppins movie. (Both stars are in the swell of predictions for the 2014 Academy Awards nominations.) John Lee Hancock directed it.
Drawn from the nanny chronicles, this Disney classic combines and super-embellishes segments from the early editions of Travers' series.
Basically, Andrews, as Poppins, parachutes into the lives of the Banks family (two kids in the movie - five in real life). She has responded to an ad to become the au pair of the unruly twosome, who, by today's standards, would be considered totally normal adventuresome inquisitive tweeners.
The English/Australian story is about uptight parents (especially the dad) bullying their young offspring into docile adult Anglo behavior - and the edgy austere nanny who saves the day. Poppins beguiles the kids with magic and magical escapades. And Disney disneyfies it.
Hollywood's Pater of Animated Features lightens the darker tales told by Travers. Perky whimsical animated characters join the live cast. Dick Van Dyke enlivens the plot as an energetic song-and-dance-man. And many wild and wacky lyrics embellish the originally somber story drawn from a complicated relationship between Travers and her own father.
Robert and Richard Sherman with Walt Disney
But Disney is Disney, an entertainer who will not wallow in verisimilitude. Meanwhile we, the audience, count on him to give us a movie that (almost) every man - from tykes to seasoned-citizens - will watch and love in unison.
The Extras reveal the underbelly of the struggles to make the film. (Travers, you've been outed! Clips from Saving Mr. Banks and audio tapes from the actual making of Mary Poppins, demonstrate the witch she was.) This struggle between Disney who fought to soften the "edgy cynicism" from Traver's original books, and Traver's resistance to Disney's "chirping", "prancing" and penguins is one thematic thread tying together the Bonus Features.
The making of the music that you can't get out of your head is another theme. And, lording over all is the incredible ingenuity and the inspired synchronicity, galvanized, in part by the struggle with Travers. Right or wrong, she was a shameless tyrant.
If you love DVD extras, these are the model. Were there an award for the best Extras, here is a leading candidate.
If you are a songwriter, watch "Becoming Mr. Sherman" where Richard Sherman and Jason Schwartzman (who plays Sherman in Saving Mr. Banks) brainstorm the role together.
If you are a red carpet addict, watch the Hollywood stars and starlets of the 1960s flaunt their finery through yesteryear's gauntlet of fans, paparazzi and interviewing sycophants.
If you aspire to compose for the cinema, watch the shebang. True, there is overlap and repetition, but these Extras are a syllabus for being the best artist you can be.
If you are a stage freak, watch "Mary Poppins from Page to Stage" for coverage of the glut of inventive talents who transformed the Travers' books into a hit Broadway musical.
The stage performance of "A Step in Time" (the chimney sweep dance) is the must-see multi-generational gift to the audience. Yes, even Super Bowl quarterbacks will cheer the dancing.
And if you still crave more Poppins, indulge in the audio commentary over the 140 minute movie. (Caveat: By now, you'll have to delight in a twinge of masochism. These Bonus Features are sooo longgg.)
One of these artists (who can remember whom after the marathon of Extras viewing?) said the theme of both Mary Poppins (the movie) and Disney (the man) is that "anything can happen if you let it." Maybe Pollyanna said it.
No. Disney left nothing to serendipity. "Anything can happen" if you combine Disney's drive, tenacity and genius. He was a clairvoyant for talent, a magnet for artists, a catalyst for creativity, an architect of solutions, and an inspiration for perfection. It is all wrapped up in this epic holiday package.
The only new feature added to this 50th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray is the "Mary-OKE Sing-Along." The graphics used to inscribe words on the screen in this bouncy romp continues the Poppins tradition of omnipresent inspired creativity.
Now, on Christmas night, after the exhaustive family festivities, the generations can use the words on-screen and the songs from the movie's musical soundtrack to belt their hearts out in familial unison - a fitting finale for this gift that keeps on giving.
Studio: Walt Disney Studios
Director: Robert Stevenson
Cast: Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke, David Tomlinson, Glynis Johns, Karen Dotrice, Mathew Garber
Length: 140 minutes
Aspect ratio: 1.66:1
7.1 DTS-HDMA, 5.1 Dolby
Digital, Original Theatrical
5.1 Dolby Digital
5.1 Dolby Digital
English SDH, French and Spanish