Mary Poppins: 50th Anniversary Edition (US - BD)
Gabe takes a loverly 'oliday wit' Mary and finds a Blu-ray he truly loves...
Mary Poppins is often designated as ‘Walt Disney’s masterpiece.’ As the years tick by, I find myself agreeing more and more with this sentiment. There are so few early childhood favourites that continue being favourites into adulthood and even fewer that improve with age. The Sherman Brothers’ music and Julie Andrews’ impossibly charming, Academy Award-winning performance are the film’s most critically enduring aspects, but the dry, sarcastic wit is not to be overlooked. The absurdist and casually cruel comedy turns funnier with age and would influence family entertainment in the decades that followed. There’s even a blatant, anti-banking system sentiment that seems more relevant today than it was in 1964 (though, the film takes place in 1910 England on the eve of WWI, which was, of course, followed by America’s Great Depression). Perhaps the most telling proof of Mary Poppins’ relative perfection (I suppose I have to admit that it is structurally so episodic that it never quite flows like a movie ‘should’) is the fact that Disney was never able to reproduce its magic. The two notable, failed attempts would be the half-decent Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971, also directed by Mary Poppins’ Robert Stevenson and staring David Tomlinson) and the awkward, mean-spirited Pete’s Dragon (1977).
It’s always exciting when a classic film is given an HD makeover and Blu-ray release, but Technicolor prints are always among the most anticipated. Following two standard definition transfers that were sharp, but limited in terms of vibrancy, Mary Poppins demanded the full HD restoration it has been given for its 50th anniversary. The colours on this 1.66:1, 1080p still appear a hair muted during the bleaker, non-magical sequences, but I imagine this was maintained on purpose for the sake of contrasting Mary’s presence with her absence. Besides, there’s no denying that the animated scenes are searing in their vividness. The Technicolor format makes for some unnatural, but consistent skin and earth tones, and ensures tight separation between hues with only minor blooming effects. From the comparison caps I’ve included here, readers will notice that the Blu-ray is cooler than the DVD, though some of the SD version’s warmth is likely an aging effect.
It does appear that the transfer’s producers went a little overboard with contrast (whites are occasionally washed-out and blacks are a bit crushed), but avoid unnecessary DNR smoothing to eliminate the 35mm grain. The film opens with a foggy, grain-caked image of London. I’m assuming that some viewers will immediately cry foul, but please notice that the yellow titles are crisp, clean, and bright. From here, the grain ebbs and flows. Sometimes, the increase makes sense, as in the case of a process shot or other purposefully foggy shots (like the titles and rooftop scenes), but there are some shots that seem to just be dirtier than others. The details are way sharper than the DVD versions, especially background patterns, which appear fuzzy in SD. The matte-painted backgrounds and sets have never looked more spectacular, specifically the animated scenery, which are now brimming with paper and chalk textures. The sizable uptake in fine detail gives way to a series of charming little artefacts around the edges of the matte effects. These usually include white lines of varying degrees, though actual edge haloes are limited to a handful of wide-angle shots. Compression and print damage artefacts are practically non-existent.
It seems that Mary Poppins has been given an audio makeover to match its digital video makeover. The various DVD versions had already remixed the original stereo tracks into home-theater-friendly 5.1, but these were always compressed and apparently not quite good enough for a 50th anniversary release. This new 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is devoted mostly to updating and broadening the spread of the musical tracks. The effect matches similar efforts from other Disney animated feature remixes. The spread across the front channels is quite nice, separating the instrumental elements that are muffled on the stereo track, making for a crisper, more lively aural experience. The expansion into the surround channels is more excessive, but rarely distracting. I did, however, find it difficult to hear some of the center channel dialogue and effects during the non-musical scenes. In fact, the softer conversations on original stereo soundtrack are more homogenous between spoken and sung dialogue, whereas there are noticeable difference between the two on the 7.1 track. This is a minor quibble, because I found I liked the remix quite a bit, specifically because the music is given a more extensive makeover than the effects/dialogue. There aren’t really any restructured incidental noises, aside from Admiral Boom’s cannon and its LFE enhancement. This music over effects mixing is notable in scenes like the one where Mary blows away all of the other nanny applicants – the score accompanying the sequence swirls around the room while the wind sounds remain fixed in the center channel.
The 45th anniversary DVD release came fitted with quite a few valuable extras. Disney clearly didn’t see any reason to mess with success and has included all of those supplements here. The only substantial new extra is Becoming Mr. Sherman (14:00. HD), a look at the production of Saving Mr. Banks from the point of view of the Richard Sherman character. Actor Jason Schwartzman, who plays the movie version of the songwriter, interviews the real-life Sherman about Mary Poppins’ songs. It’s pretty informative considering that it’s a glorified EPK for another movie. The disc also features a ‘Mary-Oke’ option that wasn’t available on previous releases.
The ‘classic’ bonus features include:
- Audio commentary with Julie Andrews, Karen Dotrice, Dick Van Dyke, and Sherman.
- Disney on Broadway
- Mary Poppins: From Page to Stage (48:10, SD) -– A roundtable discussion/extended featurette about the semi-recent stage adaptation of the stories.
- Step in Time (7:10, SD) – Footage from the musical’s version of the classic song.
- Backstage Disney
- Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious: The Making of Mary Poppins (50:50, SD) – A corny, but fully informative retrospective documentary hosted by Dick Van Dyke.
- Footage from the film’s original world premiere in August of 1964 (17:50, SD)
- Footage from the gala party that followed the premiere (6:20, SD)
- Movie Magic (7:10, SD) – A look at the film’s special effects.
- Deconstructing a Scene: Jolly Holiday (13:00, SD) – Raw footage of Andrews and Van Dyke performing the ‘Jolly Holiday’ scene interspliced with early animation and pieces of completed film.
- Deconstructing a Scene: Step in Time (4:50, SD) – More of the same, different sequence.
- Dick Van Dyke’s make-up test (1:10, SD)
- Publicity Gallery (teaser, original theatrical trailer, Julie Andrews’ premiere greeting, two TV spots, and three re-issue trailers)
- Music & More
- A Magical Musical Reunion (17:20, SD) – Andrews, Van Dyke, and Sherman discussing the film’s songs.
- Deleted Song: Chimpanzoo (1:40, SD)
- Disney Song Selection option
- A Cat That Looked at a King (9:50, SD) – A Mary Poppins-related short film staring Andrews.
Mary Poppins is a personal favourite and very high on my wish list for an HD restoration. This new transfer isn’t perfect, but, save perhaps some colour timing changes, is awfully close to what I was hoping for. The new 7.1 DTS-HD MA soundtrack is also surprisingly effective, despite being sort of an excessive revamp. It’s definitely better than the old 5.1 mix and the original stereo mix is included here for the purists (though in a compressed Dolby Digital form). The new extras are weak, but all of the 45th Anniversary release’s important supplements have been included. This is quite nearly the definitive home video release of Mary Poppins, though I’d love a redone retrospective documentary next time, myself.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and older DVD, then resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking the individual images, but due to .jpg compression, they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Gabriel Powers
All ages admitted
Release Date: 10th December 2013
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 English, Dolby Digital 2.0 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Spanish, and French
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Extras: Becoming Mr. Sherman, Mary-Oke, Filmmaker Commentary, Mary Poppins: From Page to Stage, Step in Time, Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious: The Making of Mary Poppins, Premiere Footage, Movie Magic, Deconstructing a Scene, Publicity Gallery, A Magical Musical Reunion, Deleted Song, Disney Song Selection, A Cat That Looked at a King Short Film, DVD Copy, Digital Copy
Easter Egg: No
Director: Robert Stevenson
Cast: Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke, Ed Wynn, Hermione Baddeley, Karen Dotrice
Genre: Animation, Family and Fantasy
Length: 139 minutes
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