Directed by Robert Stevenson
A magical nanny employs music and adventure to help two neglected children become closer to their father.
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★★★★★ review by Tasha Robinson on Letterboxd
All I can say is, that Mary Poppins sure has a nerve being hurt that the kids run off with their dad without saying goodbye to her, after she just spent half an hour packing while shrugging off their pleas for her to stay: "Yeah, I know you don't want me to go. So sad for you. Ciao."
Okay, that isn't all I can say. I hadn't watched this one since childhood, but after Saving Mr. Banks hit me with a sucker punch in the emotions, I had to revisit it. It's a different experience as an adult: I can see the blatant flaws in the special effects, and the 40-minute fantasy sequence (among others) kinda drags, and Dick Van Dyke's performance is so emphatically over-the-top, it might as well be delivered through a megaphone. And oh, that fake accent.
None of it matters. This is still a ridiculously charming fable with fantastically singable songs and a cleverly balanced story which kids can read as being all about the kids and their pleasure, while adults can read it as being all about adults and their lessons. Julie Andrews is still the best thing ever to happen to American musicals. There are so many reasons this is an enduring classic.
A whole bunch of things I never noticed as a kid that stood out for me as an adult viewer:
1) I never realized what a pointed political statement the animated fox hunt was: snotty, caricatured British bluebloods bullying a scruffy, desperate Irish fox, whom the American protagonists rescue because the power imbalance is so unfair. Then Mr. Banks throws in a gratuitous bit of praise for fox-hunting because it's "traditional," in yet another swipe at his clueless character.
2) In "Jolly Holiday," Bert spends verse after verse fulsomely praising how wonderful Mary is, and talking about how everyone loves her. Her response, in one faint-praise verse: "And I like hanging out with you, because you wouldn't think of trying to get with me, and I don't have to be afraid of you." She's basically warning him that it's great that he loves her, but she only likes him back because he won't try to make it sexual. Reading up on the film, that was thrown in to make sure (per the request of author P.L. Travers) that the Bert/Mary relationship wasn't mistaken for a romantic one (which it overtly was in early drafts), but the wording comes across as "At least I don't have to worry about you raping me."
3) I always thought Mrs. Banks was dim-witted and ineffectual, but that's mostly in her woolly voice and subservient affect around her husband; I completely missed her saying at the beginning that individual men are fine, but as a collective, they're "rather stupid." Watching it again, she's a great manipulator; look at how she gets Bert to take care of the kids, and shuts down Katie Nanna through her attempts to quit.
4) Actually, the adults in general in this film are great about not answering questions, particularly when there's no good answer. Mary Poppins is the best at deflecting direct questions, on a level with Willy Wonka, but plenty of other people do it too, so they never directly lie to the kids—they just dodge around the questions that would produce uncomfortable truths or lies.
5) I always remember Julie Andrews in this film as having the perfect porcelain complexion, as she's always drawn in the art, but close-up, she's adorably freckled. Not little painted-on Pippi Longstocking accent freckles, either: real full-face freckles.
6) I always thought there was something weird about the fantasy-segment backing band on "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious." They're animated in a very simple, repetitive loop, but they're drawn in such detail, especially their feather hats and the dots on their clothes. It's because they're meant to be pearlies, which I never knew about as a kid.
7) I thought the film had Disneyed out all Mary Poppins' arrogance from the books and replaced it with a little cute vanity: She still likes looking at mirrors, but isn't nearly as smug and self-satisfied as the book version. Except in the fantasy sequence. I'd never realized how clearly it's her fantasy, and not the children's: She entirely abandons them for long periods in order to hang out with talking animals who lavish praise on her, offer her anything she wants, and fall over themselves trying to entertain her. Then she wins the Derby and makes a show of modesty as everyone fawns over her. Then she performs for an enthusiastic crowd. The entire world she's created is about showing off, and the kids are really irrelevant to it. Someone needs an intervention. That said, the tea-shop penguins get back at her: Like Alice at the tea party, she's promised anything she wants at the table, but she never actually gets anything because too much wackiness is going on.
8) I've read that when Mr. Banks slumps off to his punishment at the bank, he looks at the stairs where the Bird Lady normally sits, and she's gone—and the implication is meant to be that she died, and it's too late to come here with Michael and feed the birds as he wanted. (Presumably she died because she was old—the actress was in her mid-80s and in ill health when the film was shot—and not because she didn't get Michael's tuppence and couldn't afford food or shelter that night.) It's supposed to be a weighty symbol of how time passes and some opportunities, if not taken, are forever lost—hence Mr. Banks manic behavior in the bank as he seizes the chance to get back to his kids. But as a kid, I always assumed she just went home to bed. Who feeds birds at 9 p.m. on a weeknight after doing it all day? I've fed ducks at public ponds on the weekend, and usually by 3 or 4 p.m., they're stuffed from all the free bread and not very interested in more.
9) Mr. Banks telling his boss "There's no such thing as YOU!" is a pretty weak insult. I know it's spontaneous and he's not very practiced at insults, but c'mon, it's about as sensible as calling a giant spider "Attercop" to get its blood up.
10) Okay, one last thing I definitely missed as a kid: Half the blown-away nannies from the beginning of the film are stuntmen in wigs. That's just a fun piece of trivia. Can't help but wonder about the original casting call for battleax nannies: "Wanted: Crabby-looking old women who look stern and cruel. Previous wire-work a plus. Dudes totally acceptable too."
★★★★★ review by jose on Letterboxd
hot take: mary poppins > nanny mcphee
★★★★★ review by DirkH on Letterboxd
' Old Year's Day' is what we call the last day of the year here in Holland.
One of the things that goes hand in hand with this day is watching Mary Poppins.
And as I look around the room and see three generations of my family smiling, laughing, singing and being totally captivated by this tale of magic, fantasy and the beauty of childhood, I forget that I'm a cynical dick 90% of the time. There are only a handful of films that can achieve this and this one is probably the best example of them.
And Julie Andrews is a total babe.
★★★★ review by Matt Singer on Letterboxd
Pretty magical to rewatch these old movies through my daughter’s eyes. She doesn’t really understand any of the stuff with Mr. Banks and his bank. But she bursts into “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” at random times now and I wouldn’t trade singing along with her for all the tuppence in the world.
★★★★★ review by Aaron on Letterboxd
“First of all, I would like to make one thing quite clear. I never explain anything.”
There’s really no need to explain why I love Mary Poppins. It is, like its titular character, practically perfect in every way. No need to give references; a very old-fashioned idea, to my mind.
To be sure, it’s a Disney contraption: bright colors, catchy tunes, sweet disposition. But, like practically perfect people, it doesn’t permit sentiment to muddle its thinking. There’s a powerful streak of twilight-hued melancholy through Mary Poppins. It is, wisely, neither all sugar nor all medicine.
That variegation begins with Mary Poppins (Julie Andrews) herself. Her list of qualifications is long. Cheery disposition? She is never cross—but that is not to say that she is overly ebullient. Rosy cheeks? Obviously. Play games, all sorts? Well, the children will find her games extremely diverting—though she is a bit tricky, what with games bearing narcotic titles like “Well Begun Is Half-Done.” Kind? She is kind, but extremely firm. She is, in short, a good parent as seen through a child’s eyes. Magical, with an endless supply of goods in her carpetbag and goodwill in reserve, but not without an end to her fuse or a needed disciplinary streak.
Good thing for Jane (Karen Dotrice) and Michael Banks (Matthew Garber). Their parents are far from perfect in any way. Winifred (Glynis Johns) is well-intentioned but too busy with social causes to remember her young charges. And as for George (David Tomlinson), he is the sort of man who uses the phrase “noblesse oblige” in reference to his wife and children and favorably compares household rules to bank regulations—a thoroughgoing charmer, that one. Little wonder that Jane and Michael’s nanny advertisement reads as a plea for positive attention, or that their acting out indicates its absence in their lives.
Of course Winifred and George need a lesson in family and empathy and love. Of course Jane and Michael need a lesson in responsibility and selflessness. Of course they will learn those lessons by the end credits. The lessons, while useful, are ones we’ve heard before. It’s the journey that makes Mary Poppins such a delightful classic.
The Sherman brothers’ songs outfitting that journey are, to a one, lovely and memorable, advancing and enriching the story, shading the characters, and providing a stage for Andrews’ mellifluous voice. (The ease and power and range of Andrews’ singing never fails to impress.) It is impossible to pick a favorite number—the lilting job-well-done brio of “A Spoonful of Sugar,” the haunting warmth of “Chim Chim Cher-ee,” the joyous alacrity of “Supercallifragilisticexpialidocious.” (Of course, you can say it backwards, which is dociousaliexpiisticfragilcalirupus, but that’s going a bit too far, don’t you think?) You'll be humming them all absentmindedly as a smile sneaks across your face.
Andrews shines in her first film performance, for which she took home a well-deserved Oscar. Her Mary Poppins is steely but warm, stern but affectionate. Everywhere Andrews hints at Poppins’ enigmatic depths: her flirtatiousness with Bert (Dick Van Dyke, who is wonderful, butchered accent and all) and the reporters at the derby; her bemused briskness with George; her even-keeled impatience with Uncle Albert’s (Ed Wynn) floating tea party. It’s an assured, wondrous turn that anchors a largely episodic film. The supporting turns follow suit, bringing a comic humanity to the mostly conflict-free proceedings.
Eventually, Mary Poppins’ job is through. No more sidewalk chalk paintings through which to jump. No more sliding up banisters. As the Banks family sings the luminous “Let’s Go Fly a Kite,” she is forgotten. It’s a bittersweet reminder of how often we neglect those who mean the most to us—a reiteration of the film’s central theme. Too much saccharine can overwhelm a redemptive tale. Happiness, when it’s earned, should be enjoyed—but without forgetting how one earned it. Mary Poppins knows the value of that balance, never overwhelming with either sun or clouds. As Mary Poppins would say, enough is as good as a feast.
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