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Mary Poppins: A spoonful of Poppins
"MARY POPPINS" was directed by an unassuming Walt Disney man, Robert Stevenson. When Hollywood's lively trade journal, "Variety", celebrated 60 years of its existence in 1975 by listing the names of directors whose films made most money, it came as a big surprise that it was not Hitchcock or Ford or DeMille, but Stevenson who had helped gross the most.
"Mary Poppins" was one movie that pushed its maker into the big league. Made in 1964 - at a time when people were craving for musicals - this picture fitted perfectly with the mood. And, it had other plus points. Based on a timeless tale by P.L. Travers, it had catchy tunes and marvellous performances, aided by flawless animation. The blend was superb.
Would all this have been possible without Julie Andrews, who played the title role ? She won the Oscar for Best Actress in the year (1965) when "My Fair Lady" swept the major Academy Prizes. In a way, Andrews' honour was a snub to Warner Brothers, who had replaced her with Audrey Hepburn in the celluloid version of "My Fair Lady". Earlier on stage, Andrews had played "My Fair Lady".
Disney's "Mary Poppins" gave Warner's "My Fair Lady" a good run for its money, but after about three and a half decades, it is hard to say which of the two is better. "Mary Poppins" delighted children - and adults. "My Fair Lady" came as a classic for adults - and children too. Well, there you are.
One of the strong points of "Mary Poppins" was its story (not that "Lady" was found wanting here), which begins when a couple advertise for a nanny to take care of their mischievous son and daughter. The youngsters write up their own advertisement, but their angry father tears it up. However, the pieces reassemble, float out of the house to beckon Andrews, who lands with an umbrella as a parachute.
She is no ordinary woman, and leads the boy and the girl through adventurous fun, teaching them all the while how to behave and live with dignity. The three meet a motley group of characters: a chimney sweep, a man with a strange laugh and animated penguins.
"Mary Poppins" is a riot of colours and a canvas of sheer melody. Songs such as "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious", "Chim Chim Cheree" and "A Spoonful of Sugar" still move many, taking them back to the magic of moviedom.
But, there was one jarring note. Some critics felt that Julie Andrews was a little too young to have been "Mary Poppins". The Academy did not share this view, and for Walt Disney this work came as a crowning glory in a life that had earned him more Oscars than anybody else.
(This story/review appeared in The Hindu dated October 6 2000)