Mary Poppins appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.66:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Much of the movie impressed, but it lost points due to some mild flaws.
The main problem stemmed from edge haloes. Moderate haloes popped up throughout the film. Sometimes the composited images caused similar interference, but it seemed that most of the problems emanated from old-fashioned edge enhancement. The picture looked alittle soft at times. Sharpness usually appeared pretty solidly defined, but some wider images came across as a tad soft and blurry. The lack of delineation never became extreme, but I thought the movie could have been crisper if it’d lost the edge enhancement.
No issues with jagged edges or shimmering appeared, at least. In addition, print flaws were largely absent. I noticed a few minor specks, but otherwise this was a clean presentation.
Colors seemed somewhat erratic, though I wasn’t sure how much of that I could blame on the transfer. Most hues came across well, with some nicely vivid reds and yellows at times. However, at times skin tones looked muddled; in one scene, they’d appear accurate, but another might make them somewhat brown while yet another would turn them a little anemic. I felt the majority of the colors represented the original photography, though. Due to the form of film stock and the challenges of the photographic trickery, these colors seemed to reproduce the source material fairly well, even with the variations.
Black levels were very good, with deep and rich tones. Shadow detail also seemed fine, with images that looked appropriately opaque without excessive heaviness. At times Poppins looked good enough to merit “A”-level consideration, but the problems with softness and edge enhancement were prominent enough to cause me to drop my grade to a “B”.
I thought the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Mary Poppins showed a mix of ups and downs. The soundfield remained mostly monaural except for the music, which spread nicely to all five channels. With so many production numbers, the songs dominated Poppins and the extra breadth provided from the 5.1 track helped make them even more involving.
The most significant use of the side/rear channels occurred in scenes with Admiral Boom. His explosions and their aftermath brought the various speakers to life in a brief but convincing manner. Toward the end of the flick, as a fireworks barrage flew, the blasts and zooms did a good job of zipping past us and even displayed some split surround usage. Otherwise, a little ambient sound like wind came from the side/rears, but the effects and dialogue stayed centered.
Audio quality was a less positive domain. The “Enhanced” track added a layer of bass to the mix that seemed unnatural. The boomy low-end meant that highs became submerged and lacked the appropriate clarity. Since the flick included so many songs, this concern became more unfortunate; it gave the songs and score a muddy feel.
Dialogue appeared slightly flat but was intelligible and clear. Effects were also a bit thin and wan but they maintain reasonable levels of accuracy and seemed clean, with occasional use of the lower range as well. Ultimately, this was a mix with some strengths but it fell short of expectations due to excessive bass and muddiness.
This “40th Anniversary Edition” of Poppins significantly expands the supplements found on the earlier set. On DVD One, we open with an audio commentary from actors Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke and Karen Dotrice along with composers Robert and Richard Sherman. Actually, the piece expands past that roster and becomes somewhat complex. Here’s the rundown: Andrews and Van Dyke sat together for their own running, screen-specific chat, while Dotrice and Richard Sherman did the same at a slightly later time. Robert Sherman presents remarks recorded on his own in London, and we also get some archival tapes of Walt Disney, director Robert Stevenson, and conductor/music supervisor Irwin Kostal.
Before I listened to this commentary, I feared it’d be little more than mushy nostalgia. Happily, I was wrong. Sure, we get some of the old “wasn’t that great!” but mostly we learn a lot of fun tidbits about the movie. The commentary goes into subjects like casting and actor interaction, the development of the songs, working with all the various visual effects, and technical issues. In addition, we get many fun anecdotes as well.
The women really carry the day here, as they present the best information. Dotrice proves especially interesting as she provides her view from the perspective of a then-child. The archival clips also add a nice sense of history. I really like this very entertaining and illuminating commentary.
In addition, we get a feature called Poppins Pop-Up Fun Facts. This subtitle commentary goes into subjects such as the origins of the story and its path to the screen, changes between text and movie, the author’s influence over the proceedings, sets and locations, the cast and crew, characters and their development, visual effects and animation, the songs and music, choreography, and the movie’s reception. Lots of good tidbits pop up in this efficient and informative piece. It covers the material succinctly and adds to our appreciation of the material. We even learn that Van Dyke literally paid to play the elder Dawes! It’s a fun track.
“Music & More” provides Disney’s Song Selection. This basically acts as an alternate form of chapter menu. It lets you jump to any of the film’s eight song performances, and it also allows you to show on-screen lyrics.
As the disc opens, it presents a mix of ads. We find clips for Bambi, Pooh’s Heffalump Movie, Mulan II, and The Princess Diaries II. These also appear in the Sneak Peeks domain along with promos for The Young Black Stallion, Where the Red Fern Grows and the “Disney Princess” line of products.
DVD One features the THX Optimizer. Also found on many other DVDs, this purports to help you set up your system for the best reproduction of both picture and sound, ala stand-alone programs such as Video Essentials. I’ve never tried the Optimizer since I’m happy with my settings, but if you don’t own something such as Essentials, the Optimizer may help you improve picture and audio quality.
When we hit DVD Two, the main attraction comes from a new documentary called Supercalifragilisticexpealidocious: The Making of Mary Poppins. As usual, it mixes movie clips, archival materials, and interviews. In this 50-minute and 44-second program, we hear from Andrews, Van Dyke, Dotrice, Richard Sherman, Robert Sherman, author/film historian Brian Sibley, Disney animator Andreas Deja, author Valerie Lawson, cameraman Bob Broughton, artist/sculptor Blaine Gibson, visual effects artist Peter Ellenshaw, costume designer and design consultant Tony Walton, Disney producer Don Hahn, animator Frank Thomas, choreographers Dee Dee Wood and Mark Breaux, and actor Glynis Johns.
The project follows the movie’s path to the screen and Walt Disney’s involvement, the development of the script and the influence of author PL Travers, casting, technical concerns and effects, choreography, songs and music, reactions to the final result, and various anecdotes. A fair amount of the information appears in the supplements on DVD One, so anticipate more than a smidgen of repeated material. Nonetheless, the show summarizes the production pretty well. The addition of archival bits like tapes of author Travers and raw pre-effects footage helps. Overall, the show presents a tight and enjoyable recap of the flick’s creation.
The documentary appears under the “Backstage Disney” domain with many other elements. A featurette called Movie Magic fills seven minutes and five seconds. It gives us a Disney Channel kid-oriented look at the flick’s effects. It’s not a bad clip, but it doesn’t tell us much we don’t hear in the other programs.
Under the title Deconstruction of a Scene, the next area breaks down two sequences: “Jolly Holiday” (13 minutes, three seconds) and “Step In Time” (4:52). Both of these depict raw photographic elements with other rough components and combine them to demonstrate how the filmmakers worked the effects. We already saw a lot of this in the documentary, but it’s nice to get it all in one place as well.
Next comes a short 67-second Dick Van Dyke Makeup Test. The actor narrates as we see stills and footage of Van Dyke in old age makeup as the senior Dawes. The section presents fun shots, and Van Dyke’s remarks add a little bit of useful information.
Two elements connected to The Gala World Premiere appear. We get “The Red Carpet” (17 minutes, 43 seconds) and “The Party” (6:24). The former shows the events in front of the theater at the Hollywood debut of Poppins, while the latter gives us images from the subsequent celebration. Both are quite entertaining, though “Carpet” gives us the more intriguing of the pair.
Within the “Publicity” domain, we mostly find a collection of trailers. Both the original teaser and theatrical promos appear along with one from 1966 and two from 1973. A 38-second Julie Andrews Premiere Greeting apparently was intended for regional debuts of the film; it’s an unusual clip in which she regretfully declines invitations to come to those premieres. Two original TV spots finish this area.
For the final “Backstage Disney” component, we find a collection of Still Art Galleries. This area includes 11 of these: “Visual Development” (36 frames), “Story Development” (18), “Peter Ellenshaw Paintings” (12), “Recording Sessions” (9), “Walt & Friends” (9), “The Premiere” (10), “Costumes and Makeup” (35), “Behind-the-Scenes” (78), “Publicity” (14), “Memorabilia” (21), and “Cast Photos” (18). Despite the title, this domain doesn’t offer all that much art. Mostly we see pictures taken at various venues along with ads and merchandise. It’s a fine collection of materials that can be fun to see.
One deleted song appears. We find a 91-second clip for “Chimpanzoo”. No film footage shows up; instead, we hear Richard Sherman perform the tune while we look at storyboards. This offers a nice historical component, but it doesn’t seem like the song was a bad loss.
Two featurettes come under the “Music and More” banner. A Magical Musical Reunion partners Andrews, Van Dyke and Richard Sherman in a 17-minute and 18-second piece. They all sit around a piano while they chat and Sherman occasionally plays music. We learn a little about the inspiration for some songs, the working process between the Sherman brothers, sets, choreography, and impressions of Walt. The general emphasis here is on anecdotal fun. The three reminisce and go over fun little experiences during the making of the film. It’s a lively and charming romp down memory lane.
Next we see A Musical Journey with Richard Sherman. It fills 19 minutes and 13 seconds as the composer chats about a mix of subjects. He lets us know about modified and unused concepts, and he also discusses techniques used to bring about the songs. We also see some outtakes and raw footage along with basic audio tracks. Robert Sherman pops up for a few remarks, but Richard dominates the program. By this point, I should be fed up of Sherman’s comments, but he pulls out some good new notes in this brisk and informative program. Its emphasis on the nuts and bolts of the musical elements makes it different and enjoyable.
A new short based on the writings of PL Travers, The Cat That Looked at a King goes for nine minutes and 49 seconds. I wouldn’t call it a great cartoon, but it provides some fun. It’s also cool since this is probably the closest we’ll ever come to seeing Andrews play Poppins again.
Disney DVDs often include games, and Poppins follows suit. I Love to Laugh quizzes you on your knowledge of the movie. It offers questions and you then need to select an object to answer. It’s a slightly clever form of a trivia quiz but not terribly fun, especially since it ends quickly and it offers no real reward for success.
I found Mary Poppins to offer a moderately entertaining and fun experience, and it's a film that's maintained a very strong following for many decades. However, it just didn't do a whole lot for me; I thought it was too long and it featured far too many musical numbers.
The DVD itself is erratic but generally good. Picture quality was mostly positive, but audio appeared a bit too muddy. At least the collection of extras adds a lot of great material. Mary Poppins will never be one of my favorites, but its legions of fans will be fairly pleased with this release.