6 December 2004 | cariart
Disney's Live/Animated Masterpiece Shines More Brightly than Ever!
"Mary Poppins" is one of that select group of films that can truly be called 'Classic', a project conceived in love and filled with so much child-like wonder that it will never grow old or 'out-of-date'. Certainly the crowning achievement of Walt Disney's remarkable career, both story-wise and technically, the film remains an unsurpassed achievement!
Based on P.L. Travers' tales of a magical nanny who arrives to bring families closer, the rights to the stories had been pursued by Disney since 1938, but Travers had seen what studios had done to other authors' works, and withheld her approval unless she could maintain some creative control. Years of negotiations only whetted Disney's desire to make a definitive, truly 'special' film, and by 1960, despite the box office failure of another fantasy-themed 'pet' project, "Darby O'Gill and the Little People", he was more confident than ever in the story's potential, bringing together a remarkable array of talent, including songwriting brothers Richard and Robert Sherman, production head Bill Walsh, and the brilliant artist Peter Ellenshaw to 'visualize' 1910 London through his matte paintings.
With Travers' grudging approval, casting began. While American stage and TV star Dick Van Dyke was an odd choice to play a Cockney chimneysweep, he was a gifted mime and physical comedian, and had such a wholesome exuberance that Disney knew British audiences would forgive his shaky accent. Popular British actors Glynis Johns and David Tomlinson would play the preoccupied parents, with Karen Dotrice and Matthew Garber (from "The Three Lives of Thomasina") as the neglected children. Veteran stars Ed Wynn, Elsa Lanchester, Reginald Owen, Arthur Treacher, and Jane Darwell (as the Bird Woman, in her last screen appearance), headed the strong supporting cast.
But it was the casting of Julie Andrews, in her first film, as Mary Poppins, that truly 'made' the film! Passed over by Jack Warner for the movie version of her stage hit, "My Fair Lady" (he opted for Audrey Hepburn), Disney caught her performance in "Camelot" on Broadway, knew, instantly, that she was the right 'Mary', and approached her for the role. "But I'm pregnant," she told him. "No problem," he replied. "I'll wait!"
And thus a Classic was born!
A multiple 1964 Oscar winner (including 'Best Actress' for Andrews, who got to share the stage with her "Lady" costar, Rex Harrison, who won 'Best Actor'), the film was a major hit, worldwide, and quickly achieved the legendary status it holds today.
With songs both silly and sublime, seamless intermeshing of live performers and animation as only the Disney studio, at that time, was capable of, and the undeniable magnetism of Andrews and Van Dyke, it is nearly impossible NOT to like "Mary Poppins"!