by Dan Goldwasser
Just in time for the holidays comes the 40th anniversary of Mary Poppins. To celebrate this event, Walt Disney Records and Buena Vista Home Video are doing an all-out push, with a brand new 2-disc re-mastered soundtrack, a Karaoke CD release, as well as a feature-loaded 2-disc Special Edition DVD! SoundtrackNet also was honored to talk with legendary composer/songwriter Richard Sherman about the project. So, take a deep breath, and let's jump into this sidewalk drawing to see what goodies lie in store!
The Special Edition DVD
Coming out on DVD this week, just in time for the holidays, is a brand-spanking new version of Mary Poppins. Where the old single-disc release was limiting (with just the film and no real extras), this new two-disc release has more than you expect!
Let's start with the first disc. A brand new transfer was done, and it looks absolutely stunning. Colors are vivid and bright, and while it clearly looks like a 1964 film, there is nary a spec of dirt to be found. There's a new Enhanced Home Theater audio mix in 5.1. While the dialogue is strictly monaural, the music benefits most of all. The original music stems were re-mixed for a full, immersive soundscape. Composer Richard Sherman was not directly involved with this new mix, but he was consulted for his opinion and feedback. He told us, "They were kind enough to bring me down and listen to it, and I said 'Wow!' If I had some horrible objection it was a wonderful masterful mix, and I liked it very much." Some purists might bemoan the enhancement, and I can see where they're coming from at times the mix is a bit too immersive, throwing you right in the middle of the action and some music is better heard in front of you, not behind you.
There is also a "regular" 5.1 audio track, the original 2.0 audio track, and a French and Spanish 5.1 audio track.
The two big extras on this first disc are the commentary, and the trivia track. Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke sat down together, and talked about the film with a focus on the production and music. Composer Richard Sherman joined actress Karen Dotrice where he speaks about the film from a musical perspective, and she discusses it from a child actress point-of-view. Composer Robert Sherman was in London, and he provides some insightful tidbits as well. These comments are all edited together to provide a rather entertaining, and quite educational movie-experience. The film contains plenty of symbolism as Richard Sherman explained: "'Spoonful of Sugar' has nothing to do with medicine it has to do with a happy attitude making a job easier to do. But we wanted to say it how Mary Poppins would say it obliquely. She would never say it directly to your face, she would hint to it. The entire picture had a double level the kids can enjoy it on one level, and the adults can enjoy it on another level." For over two hours, you'll be learning more about Mary Poppins than you thought you could learn. But, there's more!
More in-depth information about this, as well as so much more, is found on the pop-up trivia track that runs throughout the film. Here you can discover a wealth of tidbits from prop information, inside-jokes, explanations on British terminology, and stunt work, as well as so much more. For the ultimate experience, watch the commentary with this trivia track on you'll become an expert in no time!
There's also a nice "Disney's Song Selection" feature, which lets you jump right to each song in the film, replete with subtitles so you can sing along. (But if you truly want to sing along, check out the karaoke disc below!)
The second disc provides even more. Richard Sherman said, "The DVD is really an education on how to make a film it's really quite something. I myself have been thrilled with what I've seen, since I participated in a bunch of it, but there's a lot I was unaware of and it was quite impressive stuff." A deleted song, "Chimpanzoo" is sung by Sherman (on piano and kazoo) as storyboard play showing the deleted sequence. "A Magical Musical Reunion" runs a whopping 17:20, and is a great featurette with Richard Sherman, Julie Andrews, and Dick Van Dyke. While much of what is discussed might sound familiar (if you watched the commentary), it's nice to see these three talents reunited on screen, and talking about the music. While they don't sing anything, they do show plenty of production photos, film clips, and behind-the-scenes shots.
The real gem on this disc, is "A Musical Journey". Hosted by Richard Sherman, against a green-screen, this charming featurette takes us through the different sets and sequences in the film, supplemented with lots of great behind-the-scenes footage. Sherman clearly had a great time taking us through this journey. Occasionally supplemented by video footage of Robert Sherman (in London) contributing his thoughts, the origins of many songs are explained as well. Even other projects are briefly explored too, including Bedknobs and Broomsticks, as well as the Sherman works from Disneyland.
Scoring session footage is shows, which is great to see as well. This disc is truly a great exploration of the music. It flows excellently, uses source material, original music stems, deleted songs ("Admiral Boom"), and rare never-before-seen footage. A huge exploration of the "Step in Time" sequence, including unused cues and removed scenes and outtakes. Richard Sherman talks quite glowingly about orchestrator/arranger Irwin Kostal's underscore for the fireworks sequence (which was cut from the film). However, it's included here in the original form which is a great treat.
It's almost crazy to say this, but there's still a lot more. A 50-minute long documentary on the Making of Mary Poppins is here, with interviews, footage, and more, taking us through the whole story of how the books were brought to the screen. "Walt Disney was really the mastermind behind the whole thing he brought everyone together, and was quite a hands-on producer," explained Sherman. "People think he was just a 'figure', but he was anything but that he was a real creative producer." It's an excellent documentary, but we're still not done! "Movie Magic" shows us how the visual effects were done (quite good for 1964), and "Deconstruction of a Scene" shows us how two sequences were done ("Jolly Holiday" and "Step in Time") with original shots, before/after comparisons, and more. It's really quite impressive to see how they shot "Jolly Holiday" for integration with the animation.
A "Dick Van Dyke Make-Up Test" shows us how he was transformed into the aging bank owner. Almost 20-minutes of World Premiere footage is shows as well, from the Red Carpet and the After Party. It's almost like being there!
A new animated short film, hosted by Julie Andrews, is also included here, based on another one of the Mary Poppins book adventures, "The Cat That Looked at a King", by P.L. Travers. It's mainly for the kids, and has very little to do with the film, but
Finally, the trailers and television spots, as well as a game for the kids, and a disturbingly large wealth of photos and artwork wrap it all up. It's about as good as you're going to get for this film, and I can't think of much more that would be missing!
The Special Edition Soundtrack
The original Mary Poppins soundtrack was released on Walt Disney Records. It featured songs from the film, and an interview with the Sherman Brothers discussing their work. Now, for the 40th Anniversary of the film, a special two-disc release has been prepared. While it doesn't contain every note of music from the film, it certainly has enough to keep the average fan satisfied.
The first disc contains the music. Songs and score run a full 80 minutes long, and compared to the original release, there are no new songs included however there is now over 25 minutes of previously unreleased score, and some of the songs even have slightly extended material. The music quality is quite good for a 1964 recording; there is very little in the way of hiss or distortion, and stereo separation is quite clear. "Randy Thornton, who recreated the soundtrack, found the original underscoring by Irwin Kostal, who was a hero with this picture," said Sherman. "You hear a lot of his subtle mixing of the songs, and how they work and the instrumentation is so glorious."
The second disc contains dialogue-based extras. Much like the 2-CD release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the second disc will only appeal to people willing to sit through audio of people talking. For forty-minutes, we get to hear Story Meetings with author P.L. Travers discussion what she does and does not like (or want) in the script. It's actually pretty insightful, and you can see where Travers decided she didn't want them to stray from her story. When asked about Mrs. Travers' thoughts on Mary Poppins as a film, Richard Sherman told us, "Mrs. Travers never was too happy with the picture. It's a funny thing she never quite understood that we didn't have a story. We had a lot of little incidences, but no reason for Mary Poppins arriving and leaving. So we had to create a dysfunctional family the father is so busy with work, and the mother is busy with her cause as a suffragette. And the symbolism in "Feed the Birds" is that it doesn't take much to be kind and give a little of your self. It doesn't cost anything to do that, and means so much to everybody, and so much to these children. As soon as the father learns this lesson, and he takes them out to go fly a kite that's the lesson that Mary Poppins taught the family. So she achieved her mission, and she left."
Also included is the original Hollywood Spotlight Microphone, a 18-minute long interview with Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke, the Sherman Brothers, and Irwin Kostal, talking about the music in the film. Interestingly, Julie Andrews comments on how many movie-musicals come from the stage, yet, Mary Poppins does not and how it would be nearly impossible to adapt for the stage. SoundtrackNet spoke with composer Richard Sherman about this. "It's a wonderful exciting thing. What they did was take the form of what we did for Mary Poppins, and about nine of the original songs, a lot of the situations, and added new stories and songs. It's produced by Thomas Schumaker, and Cameron Macintosh. So we're in great hands they're wonderful producers and know what they're doing. Robert and I did not write the new songs it was done by some great writers, Anthony Drew and George Stiles. They wrote it in the period we wrote our original stuff in, and it all blends it feels like one team did the whole thing. The reason they wrote it was that Mrs. Travers had mandated that British people would be involved it couldn't be done by Americans! She didn't want us to have a run-on-the-bank. She didn't want a lot of the things we did in the film to be in any stage production. So it's a transformed, but brilliantly done version of Mary Poppins. It's still our formula that we slaved over 45 years ago, and it works beautifully!"
Finally, the album closes with the same Sherman Brothers interview that was on the original CD release. This two disc set serves as a nice tie-in for the 40th Anniversary of Mary Poppins, and while it is by no means a "complete" release of all of the music recorded for the film, it will satisfy almost everyone who wants to enjoy the great songs and music from this classic film.
The Karaoke Album
Yep, there's even a karaoke disc! After all, what better way to really show your appreciation for such classic songs as "A Spoonful of Sugar" and "Step in Time" than by crooning them yourself for your family and friends? The latest in the new Disney Karaoke Series of releases, Mary Poppins Karaoke gives us eight songs from the film, in two flavors: with or without vocals. As with the previous karaoke discs, the vocal versions are not the original singers; rather, they are newly produced vocal tracks to show you "how to sing properly".
Unlike the rather disappointing Aladdin karaoke disc, the orchestral material comes from the original source recordings! That's right, finally we have a music-only version of the songs from the film. (I just hope that if and when Disney does The Nightmare Before Christmas, they go to the original music stems as well.) Richard Sherman explained that the main reason to record the music separately from the orchestra was so that when it was dubbed into foreign languages, it would be easier to mix. Additionally, this allowed them to make any musical modifications and orchestral tweaks right up until the end. So, pop this disc in, and try your hand at "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious". It's worth a shot, and for $9, it's worth it!
Mary Poppins was nominated for a whopping 11 Academy Awards, winning five of them, including two for Best Song and Best Score. With such a heavy musical presence, it's wonderful to know that Walt Disney Records and Buena Vista Home Video have put together a great collection of material with a strong emphasis on the music in the film.
If you're any type of fan of the film, you should definitely get everything mentioned above. With almost 8 hours of material, it will take you some time to go through it all but it's worth it, and I am sure if you take the plunge, you'll agree.
Special thanks to Mac McLean, Maria Kleinman, Howard Green, and of course, Richard Sherman