Mary Poppins (1964)

(In French, Video on-Demand, September 2015) I had seen bits and pieces of Mary Poppins over the years, but never the entire thing from beginning to end.  So it is that “I can see why this is a classic” jostles with “wow, this is a long movie” as my first conclusions.  Clocking in at nearly 140 minutes, Mary Poppins unevenly goes from one set-piece to another, flirting with plotlessness before finally delivering something near the very end.  It’s obviously a musical, meaning that is comes with a Bollywoodian intent to cover all emotional bases during its lengthy running time, no matter the loss in economical storytelling along the way.  There’s also an argument to be made that in 1964, audiences were far more accepting of a meandering movie experience and that today’s 90-minutes feature competes with far many more entertainment options.  So be it –let’s simply say that the film often drags.  Still, it would be churlish to ignore the reasons why Mary Poppins remains a cultural touchstone: the charm of it all, the great performances by Julie Andrews and Dick van Dyke (whose physical energy in the film remains astonishing), plentiful special effects, the catchy tunes, the family-first message, the set-pieces that do work well.  (My own favourites include the partially-animated Jolly Holiday, Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious (of course) and the rooftop Chim-Chim-Cheree)  Must of the film feels dated, but in doing so has acquired a further patina of whimsy that can’t be replicated by modern films.  (Well, except for the use of suffragette activism as a motivation for a mother ignoring her kids –that’s even more annoying than it must have been at the time.)  While I itch for some editing power in making this film more focused from beginning to end, the end result is still a classic for the ages.  Note: The French version may be competently translated, but it’s nowhere near the catchiness of the original English soundtrack.

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