50 years on: A look back at Mary Poppins
Neil Brazier | On 25, Nov 2013
Director: Robert Stevenson
Cast: Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke, David Tomlinson
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With tuppence for paper and strings, you can have your own set of wings. Or feed the birds. Or invest it safely in the bank. Mary Poppins, Disney’s musical masterpiece, has become a long-standing Christmas tradition on British televisions, but it is also an iconic rite of passage for any child.
The eponymous Poppins (Julie Andrews) responds to a musical request from Jane and Michael Banks, two children whose parents lead lives too busy for kite flying or trips to the park. Having proved too unruly for previous nannies, there is no getting the upper hand on Mary. Along with her old friend, a jobs worth named Bert (Dick Van Dyke), they enjoy some magical antics that are too fantastical for their parents to imagine.
More to disbelieve is the story it took to get Poppins from book to silver screen – another Disney adaptation chronicled in Christmas 2013’s “Saving Mr. Banks”. Despite author P.L. Travers distain for the cheerful Disney incarnation, this 1964 movie has remained a staple of childhood and still tops “All Time Great…” lists, whomever you speak to.
Travers had wanted the music of the film to be representative of the time, none of the original wonders that the Sherman brothers produced. It’s almost impossible to imagine Mary Poppins without such familiar melodies, from Feed The Birds to Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious to every parent’s self-help favourite, A Spoonful of Sugar, which, indeed, does help the medicine go down.
The film opens with Jane and Michael having gone missing, chasing a kite that blew away in the wind – something they believe wouldn’t have happened if their parents had helped fix it sooner. The kite naturally represents the broken family unit, which, through the magic of Mary, is brought together and mended, after Mr. Banks has an epiphany following being discharged from work. This symbol is reinforced when Mr. Banks fixes the kite and the whole family go for an outing.
Bookended by these aeronautic antics, the rest of the story focuses on the children and their adventures with their new nanny. The story never lulls, moving from chalk pictures on pavements to chimney sweeps dancing on rooftops. As a child watching, the urge to leap into the screen and join in the fun is almost unbearable. In a time long before CGI, the stop-motion and animatronic robins, interwoven with the classic Disney animation, all make the magic feel so real.
One of the most notable performances that now live in infamy is that of Dick Van Dyke and his attempt at a cockney accent. Some people call it ridiculous, and while they’re right, it’s impossible not to raise a smile at it. Voice aside, Van Dyke is perfect fodder for Mary, the two sharing great chemistry – one of the key reasons to the movie’s success.
For 50 years now, Mary Poppins has entertained families and brought wonder to children all over the world. Winner of five Oscars – including best visual effects and best actress for Julie Andrews – just like its lead, this movie is practically perfect in every way.
Mary Poppins Returns is available on Disney+ UK, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription or a £79.99 yearly subscription. It is also available on Sky Cinema. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it on NOW, as part of an £11.99 NOW Cinema Membership subscription. For the latest Sky TV packages and prices, click the button below.