Welcome to my weekly discussion of the animated films of the Walt Disney Studio. I’m proceeding mostly chronologically. We’ve done all of the animated films, so we’re moving on to the live-action and partially-animated films. The title comes from a quote from Walt, “I never called my work an ‘art’ It’s part of show business, the business of building entertainment.”
Title: Mary Poppins
Source materials: The series of novels by P.L. Travers
Budget: $4.4–6 million
Box office: $102.3 million
Plot: In 1910, Bert entertains a crowd as a one-man band when he senses a change in the wind. Afterwards, he directly addresses the audience, and gives them a tour of Cherry Tree Lane, stopping outside the Banks family’s home.
George Banks returns home to learn from his wife, Winifred, that Katie Nanna has left their service after their children, Jane and Michael, ran away again. They are returned shortly after by Constable Jones, who reveals the children were chasing a lost kite. The children ask their father to help build a better kite, but he dismisses them.
Taking it upon himself to hire a new nanny, Mr. Banks advertises for a stern, no-nonsense nanny. Instead, Jane and Michael present their own advertisement for a kinder, sweeter nanny. Mr. Banks rips up the letter, and throws the scraps in the fireplace, but the remains of the advertisement magically float up and out into the air.
The next day, a number of elderly, sour-faced nannies wait outside the Banks’ home, but a strong gust of wind blows them away, and Jane and Michael witness a young nanny descending from the sky using her umbrella. Presenting herself to Mr. Banks, Mary Poppins calmly produces the children’s restored advertisement, and agrees with its requests, but promises the astonished banker she will be firm with his children. As Mr. Banks puzzles over the advertisement’s return, Mary Poppins hires herself, and she convinces him it was originally his idea.
She meets the children and helps them magically tidy their nursery before heading out for a walk in the park. Outside, they meet Bert, working as a screever; Mary Poppins uses her magic to transport the group into one of his drawings. While the children ride on a carousel, Mary Poppins and Bert go on a leisurely stroll. After the duo meets up with the children, Mary Poppins enchants the carousel horses; they participate in a fox hunt followed by a horse race which Mary wins. Describing her victory, Mary Poppins uses the nonsense word “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”. The outing is ended when a thunderstorm dissolves Bert’s drawings, returning the group to London.
The next day, the four meet odd Uncle Albert, who has floated up in the air due to his uncontrollable laughter; they join him for a tea party on the ceiling and tell jokes. Afterward, Mr. Banks becomes annoyed by the household’s cheery atmosphere, and he threatens to fire Mary, but Mary convinces him instead to take the children to his workplace, the bank, the next day.
Mr. Banks does so, and the children meet Mr. Dawes Sr. and his son. Mr. Dawes aggressively urges Michael to invest his tuppence in the bank, ultimately snatching the coins from Michael. Michael demands them back; other customers overhear the conflict, and they all begin demanding their own money back, causing a bank run. Jane and Michael flee the bank, getting lost in the East End until they run into Bert, now working as a chimney sweep, who escorts them home.
The three and Mary Poppins venture onto the rooftops, where they meet other chimney sweeps, who spills out into the Banks’ home. An incensed Mr. Banks returns and receives a phone call from his employers. He speaks with Bert, and Bert tells him he should spend more time with his children before they grow up. Jane and Michael give their father Michael’s tuppence in the hope to make amends. Mr. Banks walks through London to the bank, where he is given a humiliating cashiering and is dismissed. Looking to the tuppence for words, he blurts out “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!”, tells a joke, and happily heads home. Dawes Sr. mulls over the joke and, finally understanding it, floats up into the air, laughing.
The next day, the wind changes, meaning Mary Poppins must leave. A happier Mr. Banks is found at home, having fixed his children’s kite, and takes the family out to fly it. In the park, the Banks family meets Mr. Dawes Jr, who reveals his father died laughing from the joke. Although initially sorry, Mr. Banks soon becomes happy for him, as Mr. Dawes Jr. had never seen his father happier in his life and re-employs Mr. Banks as a junior partner. With her work done, Mary Poppins flies away; Bert bids her farewell, telling her not to stay away too long.
Background: Walt Disney’s daughters fell in love with the Mary Poppins books and made him promise to make a film based on them. Disney first attempted to purchase the film rights to Mary Poppins from P. L. Travers as early as 1938. For more than 20 years, Disney periodically made efforts to convince Travers to allow him to make a Poppins film. He finally succeeded in 1961, although Travers demanded and got script approval rights. Travers was an adviser to the production. However, she disapproved of the dilution of the harsher aspects of Mary Poppins’ character, felt ambivalent about the music, and so hated the use of animation that she ruled out any further adaptations of the later Mary Poppins novels. Disney overruled her, citing contract stipulations that he had final say on the finished print. It was at the after-party that Richard Sherman recalled her walking up to Disney and loudly announcing that the animated sequence had to go. Disney responded, “Pamela, the ship has sailed,” and walked away.
Changes from the Source Material: The story is comprised of adventures from the first three books. The character of Burt is a composite of the Match Seller and the Sweep. In the film, there are only two Banks children, Jane and Michael. In the books there are five.
Animation: This was the last feature in which Disney legend Ward Kimball worked as an animator. He designed and drew The Pearly Band for the “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” sequence. Ub Iwerks modified the Technicolor camera that was used to mix live action and animation, also known as the “Sodium Vapor Process.” This camera had a prism installed to separate the sodium vapor lights from the rest of the color. Over 100 glass and matte paintings were used to recreate the London skyline of 1910.
Songs: The film’s music features music and lyrics by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman.
- “Sister Suffragette”
- “The Life I Lead”
- “The Perfect Nanny”
- “A Spoonful of Sugar”
- “Jolly Holiday”
- “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” 1
- “Stay Awake”
- “I Love to Laugh”
- “A British Bank (The Life I Lead)”
- “Feed the Birds (Tuppence a Bag)”
- “Fidelity Fiduciary Bank”
- “Chim Chim Cher-ee” 2
- “Step in Time”
- “A Man Has Dreams”
- “Let’s Go Fly a Kite”
Dame Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins. 3 She also voiced the Robin and one of the Pearlies. She made her Broadway debut in The Boy Friend and starred in My Fair Lady playing Eliza Doolittle, and Camelot playing Queen Guinevere. In 1957, Andrews starred in the premiere of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s written-for-television musical Cinderella, a live, network broadcast seen by over 100 million viewers. Mary Poppins was her film debut. She starred in The Sound of Music playing Maria von Trapp, 4 She starred in The Americanization of Emily, Hawaii, Torn Curtain, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Star!, The Tamarind Seed, 10, Victor/Victoria, That’s Life!, Duet for One, The Princess Diaries, the Shrek series and Despicable Me. Dick Van Dyke as Bert. He also portrays Mr. Dawes Sr. 5Van Dyke made his Broadway debut in The Girls Against the Boys. He then played the lead role of Albert Peterson in Bye Bye Birdie. From 1961 to 1966, Van Dyke starred in the CBS sitcom The Dick Van Dyke Show. 6 He appeared in Bye Bye Birdie, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, The Comic, Dick Tracy, Curious George, and Night at the Museum.
David Tomlinson 7 as George Banks. He also voices a Penguin Waiter, Jockey, Race Track Stewards, Mr. Binnacle, and Mary Poppins’ Parrot Umbrella. Tomlinson continued work with Disney, appearing in The Love Bug and Bedknobs and Broomsticks. Throughout the rest of Tomlinson’s film career, he never steered far from comedies. His final acting appearance was in The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu. Glynis Johns as Winifred Banks. She is known for creating the role of Desiree Armfeldt in A Little Night Music 8 on Broadway, for which she won a Tony Award.She starred in Miranda, Third Time Lucky, Dear Mr. Prohack, State Secret, Flesh and Blood, No Highway in the Sky, Appointment with Venus, Encore, The Magic Box The Card, The Sword and the Rose, Rob Roy, the Highland Rogue, Personal Affair, The Weak and the Wicked, The Seekers, The Beachcomber, Mad About Men Josephine and Men and The Court Jester. She also appeared in While You Were Sleeping.
Karen Dotrice as Jane Banks. She appeared in The Three Lives of Thomasina and The Gnome-Mobile. As an adult, she appeared in The Thirty-Nine Steps andUpstairs Downstairs Matthew Garber 9 as Michael Banks. He also starred in only two other films: The Three Lives of Thomasina and The Gnome-Mobile.
Hermione Baddeley 10 as Ellen. Baddeley was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in Room at the Top. and a Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play for The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore in 1963. In 1975 she won a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Television Series for her portrayal of Nell Naugatuck on the TV series Maude. She appeared in The Belles of St Trinian’s, The Unsinkable Molly Brown, Passport to Pimlico, The Pickwick Papers, Tom Brown’s Schooldays, A Christmas Carol, and Brighton Rock. She leant her voice to The Aristocats and The Secret of NIHM. Elsa Lanchester 11 as Katie Nanna. One of her earliest roles was The Private Life of Henry VIII. She was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for Come to the Stable and Witness for the Prosecution. Other films include The Spiral Staircase, The Razor’s Edge, The Bishop’s Wife, Murder by Death, and Bell, Book and Candle. However her most iconic role was one of her earliest, that of the title character in The Bride of Frankenstein.
Arthur Treacher 12 as Constable Egbert Jones. In the 1960s, he became well-known on American television as an announcer/sidekick to talk show host Merv Griffin. He lent his name to the Arthur Treacher’s Fish and Chips chain of restaurants. He began his movie career during the 1930s, which included roles in four Shirley Temple movies: Curly Top, Stowaway, Heidi, and The Little Princess. He also starred in the title role in Thank you, Jeeves! Reginald Owen 13 as Admiral Boom. Owen is perhaps best known today for his performance as Ebenezer Scrooge in the 1938 film version of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Owen was one of only five actors to play both Sherlock Holmes and his companion Dr Watson. He also appeared in Bedknobs and Broomsticks.
Ed Wynn returns as Uncle Albert Wigg. The voice cast included Paul Frees, Dallas McKennon, Alan Napier, Marni Nixon, 14 J. Pat O’Malley, Thurl Ravenscroft, and Richard and Robert Sherman. 15
Critical Reception: Variety praised the film’s musical sequences and the performances of Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke, in particular. Time lauded the film, stating, “The sets are luxuriant, the songs lilting, the scenario witty but impeccably sentimental, and the supporting cast only a pinfeather short of perfection.”
The film received a total of 13 Academy Awards nominations, including Best Picture, a record for any other film released by Walt Disney Studios, and won five: Best Actress for Andrews, Best Film Editing, Best Original Music Score, Best Visual Effects, and Best Original Song for “Chim Chim Cher-ee”.
Legacy: Walt Disney used his huge profits from the film to purchase land in central Florida and finance the construction of Walt Disney World.
A Broadway version was staged in 2004. When producer Cameron Mackintosh approached her about the stage musical in the 1990s, she acquiesced on the conditions that he use only English-born writers and that no one from the film production be directly involved. The book of the play was written by Julian Fellows. The Broadway version includes characters from the books that did not appear such as Mrs. Corry, the gingerbread store owner, 16 mean nanny Mrs. Andrews, and living statue Neleus.
The film Saving Mr. Banks is an account of the creation of the film, starring Emma Thompson as Travers, Tom Hanks as Disney, and Jason Swartzman and B.J. Novak as the Shermans.
On December 19, 2018, Walt Disney Pictures released the film Mary Poppins Returns. The film takes place 24 years after the original. Emily Blunt stared as Mary Poppins, and Dick Van Dyke returning in a cameo to portray Mr. Dawes Jr.. Karen Dotrice also appeared in a cameo role in the film. Emily Mortimer and Ben Whishaw play grown-up Jane and Michael Banks. Characters from the books include Topsy Turvy, the Park Keeper, and the Balloon Woman. The film also stars Lin-Manuel Miranda, Meryl Streep, Colin Firth, and Angela Lansbury.
Disneyland features the Holly Jolly Bakery, and Mary Poppins appears as a meet and greet character. In Walt Disney World, in the lost and found in Frontierland, there is a wooden leg with the word “Smith” on it.
My take: As a child, I used to dance around the living room like a chimney sweep, so when I got the chance to be in the musical it was a dream come true.
Julie Andrews is perfection. I could listen to that voice all day. Belle remarked that Dick Van Dyke moves like Ray Bolger (seeing him dance again in the sequel brought such a smile to my face). The songs are the best the Sherman Brothers ever wrote. The supporting cast is excellent.
This is one of the best movies ever made.
Next Week: That Darn Cat!