Mary Poppins

Talkie of the Week: Disney Series

USA 1964, 139 minutes, Technicolor, Walt Disney Productions, Distributed by Buena Vista Distribution. Based on Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers. Screenplay by Bill Walsh and Don DaGradi, Directed by: Robert Stevenson. Cast: Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke, David Tomlinson, Glynis Johns, Karen Dotrice, Matthew Garber, Hermione Baddeley, Reta Shaw, Reginald Owen, Don Barclay, Arthur Treacher, Elsa Lanchester, Marjorie Bennett, Arthur Malet, Ed Wynn, Jane Darwell.

Plot summary: Mary Poppins is the kind of nanny every child dreams of. She‘s lovely, adventurous and full of magic, or simply supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

Mary Poppins_bwReview: Who does not know her, Mary Poppins, the bewitching nanny played by Julie Andrews? Arriving with the changing wind, she knows how to make a big entrance in the lives of the Banks family at a time when they need her most. The children of the household, Jane and Michael, have made a habit out of swapping personnel. They do not wish to be handled by stiff-lipped elders, they want to explore the world instead. Mary Poppins, upon arrival, seems to be just another dragon in disguise, another grown-up determined to take the fun out of their lives. However, when she slides up the stairs and opens her bag full of wondrous magic, Jane and Michael change their mind. They open their heart to the new nanny, a lady who believes in following the rules as much as bending them. Before she appeared, from heaven or out of thin air, chores and duty killed every ounce of joy in them, but with Mary, even the dullest of tasks turns into an adventure for the Banks offspring and ultimately also for their parents.

Rewarded with an Academy Award for her performance, Julie Andrews breathed life into a character who turned childhood longings into reality. Based on P.L. Travers’ first book, the silver screen version of Mary Poppins was dulcified, her story abridged to fit into 139 minutes of live action entertainment interwoven with musical numbers and animated sequences. Versatile, stage-tested and equipped with a genuinely clear voice, the Ms. Andrews gave her silver screen debut in Disney‘s masterpiece adaptation and proved she was the perfect choice for her first Hollywood alter ego. Although previously trumped by Audrey Hepburn for the screen version of My Fair Lady, Andrews was rewarded with the biggest laurels of industry success and thus extended her career from stage to film. Timeless in quality and style, Mary Poppins has since remained one of Julie Andrews’ most memorable films, a Disney classic children love to revisit as much as adults.

An instant success upon release in 1964, the film was re-released in 1973 and rerun on television on a regular basis. Also made available on home video and DVD, Mary Poppins has managed to stay entertaining and fresh over the duration of five decades. On December 10, 2013, the motion picture has now also been announced to be released on Blu-ray as a 50th Anniversary Edition, another milestone in the history of a film that still enchants my heart and always revives my belief in the power of imagination.

Peter Pan

Talkie of the Week: Disney Series

USA 1953, 76 minutes, Technicolor, Walt Disney Productions, Distributed by RKO Radio Pictures. Based on Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up by J.M. Barrie. Narrated by Tom Conway, Voice Talents: Bobby Driscoll, Kathryn Beaumont, Paul Collins, Tomy Luske, Hans Conried, Heather Angel, Bill Thompson, Corinne Orr, June Forray, Margaret Kerry, Connie Hilton, Karen Kester and Candy Candido.

Plot summary: Who did not dream of him as a child, Peter Pan, the boy from Neverland who wouldn’t grow up?!

Peter Pan poster 1953Review: I remember it as clearly as if it had happened only yesterday. I lie awake late at night. I cannot sleep and my eyes are fixed on my half-open window. I am waiting for Peter Pan to arrive, but my childhood hero never comes. I am not Wendy. I do not get a chance to catch his shadow and lure him into my life. I do not get to fly away with him into the night. When I was little, stories like Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland or A Little Princess were my world. I read them all, saw them on stage and listened to them on the radio. I loved to dive into the world of make-belief, a world so real to me I could taste it like my grandmother’s unequaled cooking. When I first saw Peter Pan on screen, it was love at first sight. I knew that was the kind of hero I had to meet in order to stay who I enjoyed to be: a happy child who was bubbling over with imagination. Quite naturally, I had to grow up and eventually my interest in Neverland began to fade. I am sure clang to it much longer than the average child, but after all, my fascination with the boy who wouldn’t grow up was gone. The allure of an eternal childhood had lost its appeal. After a while, I was excited to grow up like Wendy Darling and I have not missed being a child since. I do remember the excitement though about a fantastic tale like Peter Pan, beautifully adapted by Walt Disney over the course of almost two decades.

Based on J.M. Barrie’s famous play, as well as on his novel Peter and Wendy, the film was set in early 20th century London. The first scene introduces us to the Darlings, an aristocratic family who is blessed with three imaginative children, Wendy, John and Michael. The boys love to act out stories their sister tells them, stories about a far away place called Neverland. Wendy knows her stories are true because she has caught the shadow of Peter Pan, the boy who never grew up. When he returns to retrieve it, he finally shows himself in person and invites the Darling children to explore his world. Together, they fight Captain Hook, play with the Lost Boys and learn to fly with Tinkerbell’s help. They live a storybook adventure, meet Indians and mermaids, but also learn what it would mean to remain a child forever like Peter Pan.

Although already considered for production in the 1930s, the film did not make it to theaters as one of the studio’s early films but was put on hold for the duration of WWII. After surviving negotiations, draft revisions and Hollywood’s financial drought of the post-war years, Peter Pan finally premiered as Disney’s 14th animated feature on February 5, 1953. The film received mixed reviews but easily turned into a commercial success. Re-released to theaters five times before its premiere on home video in 1990, Peter Pan became a household name across the globe and a character kids still love today. For adults, the film often comes with a taste of nostalgia for the days when they themselves were little. When summer days were endless, friends precious and ice cream wagons played the sweetest melody. For me, Peter Pan will always be the boy I did not get to meet and Wendy the girl who became my heroine. It is that kind of quality Disney’s adaptation still effuses. A true classic for kids from all decades, states and ages.

Watch the trailer here to refresh your memories. The film is available on DVD and Blu-ray.

Lady and the Tramp

Talkie of the Week: Disney Series

USA 1955, 75 minutes, Technicolor, Walt Disney Productions, Distributed by Buena Vista. Based on Happy Dan, The Whistling Dog by Ward Greent. Voice Talents: Peggy Lee, Barbara Luddy, Larry Roberts, Bill Thompson, Bill Baucom, Verna Felton, Stan Freberg, Alan Reed.

Plot summary: One of the greatest love stories of all time, a cocker spaniel and a mutt are sharing spaghetti in the moonlight.

Lady and the TrampReview: For anyone who is not fond of dogs, this film is probably a bore. For anyone who loves canines and their world, Lady and the Tramp is a gem. Inspired by true events and loosely based on a short story by Dan Green, Disney’s fifteenth animated feature tells the story of cocker spaniel Lady and her life in a posh neighborhood. As the only dog of her human owners, she is sheltered, spoiled and used to the comforts of a collar. Tramp is her direct opposite, a mixed breed, hardened and laddish. Charmer that he is, he impresses her with stories of a stray existence, of a life beyond her picket fences. It is a world she cannot get accustomed to although she slowly falls in love with the mutt who introduces her to it. When Lady suddenly runs into mischief and needs help to save her family from harm, it is Tramp who rushes to her rescue and ultimately wins her heart.

Presented in Cinemascope as the first of its kind, Disney’s “happiest motion picture” is colorful, elegant and delightful. Told from Lady’s perspective, the plot takes place in a world shaped by humans but experienced on four paws. The main characters are all canines, beautifully brought to life by Disney’s expert staff. With a carefully executed love to detail, Lady, Tramp, Jock and Trusty move and look exactly like the breed each one of them represents. With their previously demonstrated awareness of animal expressions and their idiosyncratic behavior, the Disney animators continued a tradition they had started with the production of Bambi in 1942. With a mixture of realism and fantasy, they created a world that doesn’t exist to tell a story that reflects human emotions and needs. Lady is like a child who takes her first steps in the world without parental guidance. In the beginning, she is still a little clumsy and naive, but always charming. The first lessons she learns are secondhand stories shared by her older peers. But before long, she has her own adventures.

What sets this film apart from similar stories are the combined talents and skills brought together by Walt Disney Productions. From the first glimpse of an idea in 1937 to the final sketches in the 1950s, the story was revised, improved and edited to become the classic it now is. Vocally perfected by Peggy Lee, the film premiered on June 22, 1955 and turned into an immediate success. Making more money than any other production since the release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937, Lady and the Tramp was re-released to theaters four times before the film was made available to the public on VHS in 1987. Today, it is available on DVD and Blu-ray with many extras, including deleted scenes and a making of. Although the film widely differs from modern productions, predominantly in language, attitude and design, Lady and the Tramp is the kind of motion picture that will never go out of style. It is a film blessed with unforgettable tidbits and scenes. From Lady’s first appearance to the famous spaghetti dinner and my personal favorite, the names of Lady’s owners, Jim Dear and Darling. It is a film from a bygone time when beauty still mattered and animated features invited us to dream. Watch the trailer here to refresh your memories. I’m sure the music alone will bewitch you within a short few seconds.

Fantasia

Talkie of the Week: Disney Series

USA 1940, 125 minutes, Technicolor, Walt Disney Productions. Distributed by: RKO Radio Pictures. Master of Ceremonies: Deems Taylor. Music written by Johann Sebastian Bach, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Paul Dukas, Igor Stravinsky, Ludwig van Beethoven, Amilcare Ponchielli, Modest Mussorgsky and Franz Schubert. Music performed by Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra.

Plot summary: Modern animation meets classical music, from The Sorcerer’s Apprentice to Schubert’s Ave Maria.

FAntasia posterReview: In the late 1920s and 30s, Walt Disney first mixed animated pictures with classical music in a series of cartoon shorts called Silly Symphonies. As an advancement of this concept, he soon started working on The Sorcerer’s Apprentice based on Goethe’s famous poem and Paul Dukas’ composition. Created to boost Mickey Mouse whose popularity had suffered in the shadow of the Silly Symphonies, the piece was colorful and lavish, and thus soon burst the budget. Without much ado, Mickey’s short was included in another production, a film Disney’s favorite mouse was destined to become the signature star of. Designed as a concert with a Master of Ceremonies, a famous conductor and a real orchestra, Disney’s third feature broke new ground. By combining live action scenes with animated stories, Fantasia blurred the lines of reality and imagination, of classical music and pop culture imagery.

Released on November 13, 1940 the film was received with mixed reviews and mild audience approval. On the eve of America’s entry into WWII, the majority of movie goers was looking for funny cartoons rather than sophisticated culture. Unfortunately, Fantasia didn’t attract music lovers either. Instead, they turned up their noses at Disney’s picturesque concept. For them, the animation destroyed the power of classical music and its most appealing effect, the stimulation of the human mind and its imagination. It presented prefabricated pictures rather than create an atmosphere that allowed the audience to form their own inside their heads. That form of criticism may sound peculiar to film enthusiasts. After all, a movie is nothing but a sequence of moving pictures. But it is also a fair argument for anyone who appreciates the fine art of music and all the emotions it evokes.

Re-released to theaters several times during the war and after, Fantasia had a hard time making enough money and was finally presented in different versions and shorter cuts. Released as part of the Walt Disney Classics collection in 1990, the film finally found everlasting success on VHS and laser disc. It is now available in its full glory on DVD and Blu-ray as a compilation with Fantasia 2000, a film that finally continued what Walt Disney himself had once planned to be a series of motion pictures inspired by the best of classical music and tales.

Alice in Wonderland

Talkie of the Week: Disney Series

USA 1951, 75 minutes, Technicolor, Walt Disney Pictures. Distributed by: RKO Radio Pictures, Based on “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass” by Lewis Carroll

Plot summary: To elude her dull lessons, Alice escapes into the nonsensical world of Wonderland where cats wear stripes and flowers can sing.

Alice in WonderlandReview: Every kid knows her. Alice, the English girl who is bored stiff by her daily lessons and dreams of a world different from her rule-filled own. As a child, I envied her for her adventures in Wonderland, a world so entertaining and scary all at once. Like her, I escaped boredom in my mind and created a world too colorful to make sense to adults. Had I spotted a White Rabbit with a pocket watch, I would have gladly followed him. But like Peter Pan, Mr. Rabbit never came and I was stuck with the poetic words of Lewis Carroll and a Disney adaptation I only recently learned to appreciate for its imperfection.

When Alice enters Wonderland, she meets a bunch of quirky characters: Mad Hatter and March Hare, a smoking Caterpillar, and the Queen of Hearts. Their customs are peculiar and differ from what the girl has learned to be conventional. They are interesting but also capricious, their language, attitude and behavior as unpredictable as the visibility of the Cheshire Cat. What begins as a great adventure soon turns into a series of unpleasant encounters. Based on Lewis Carroll’s famous books, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, Disney’s heroine stumbles from one oddity to the next until finally finds her way home again.

Despite their narrative complexity, Walt Disney was interested in adapting Lewis’ stories  early on but had to take several hurdles until he was able to begin with the production. Rewritten and re-imagined several times, the film finally premiered on July 26, 1951 and met with a lukewarm response. Although not slated by critics at the time, the animated feature did not attract a loyal audience. Cut down to fit into 75 short minutes, Disney’s version was incomplete and deemed Americanized by fans of Lewis Carroll’s original stories. Despite its imaginative artwork and catchy tunes, the film was not popular until its re-release in 1974 when a new generation appreciated Alice in Wonderland for its eccentric (or arguably psychedelic) content.

Now considered a children’s classic, Carroll’s books and Disney’s adaptation have influenced and shaped the imagination and childhood of many kids around the world. Although remade many times, Alice is still a beautiful blond girl in a lot of hearts and minds. Her world, both fantastic and real, stands for a time lost to us all when nothing compared to the power of imagination. When movies still made a difference in our lives and dreams were more than just the sum of our daily actions. Alice is a symbol of innocence, creativity and curiosity. A carefree child who, not unlike Wendy Darling in Peter Pan, is entangled in a mélange of fantastic tales and adult rules she has learned to escape at her own discretion.

Watch the original trailer here and refresh your memories of an enchanting Disney classic now available on DVD and Blu-ray.

Pinocchio

Talkie of the Week: Disney Series

USA 1940, 88 minutes, Technicolor, Walt Disney Pictures. Distributed by: RKO Radio Pictures, Based on “The Adventures of Pinocchio” by Carlo Collodi

Plot summary: When wood-carver Geppetto makes a wish for his puppet Pinocchio to turn into a real boy, he doesn’t expect his dream to come true.

Pinocchio posterReview: When you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are. Anything your heart desires will come to you.

Do you remember the melody and those lyrics written by Leigh Harline and Ned Washington, a perfect composition for children of all ages?

If your heart is in your dream, no request is too extreme. When you wish upon a star as dreamers do.

Whenever I hear it, I can’t stop singing along. It’s such a catchy tune, such a lovely song rightly rewarded with an Academy Award and later selected as Disney’s signature tune.

For all of you who grew up watching Disney movies, Pinocchio is probably a film that stands out in your memories. Based on Carlo Collodi’s Le Avventure di Pinnochio, it was Disney’s second feature, a dream-like adaptation of Italian tales written for children between 1881 and 1883. Now considered a children’s classic, Collodi’s collection of stories introduced us to the adventures of a wooden puppet who was eventually given the chance to become a real boy. Not unlike Bambi in 1942, Pinocchio dealt with harsh realities in a charming way and confronted its audience with lessons on poverty, deceit and loss. Woven into a fantastic plot that allowed a marionette to come to life by grace of a stunning (Jean-Harlow-esque) Blue Fairy, Pinocchio offered children a glimpse into the pitfalls and dangers of a grownup world without disillusioning them. For adults, the plot offered a reflection on their own lives, especially in the early days of WWII.

Although blessed with positive reviews upon release, the film was not immediately considered a success but only gradually brought in the production coasts. Re-released several times, Pinocchio is now a Disney treasure available on DVD and Blu-ray. Colorful and imaginative, the film has preserved its potential to win over any child by passing on key values such as courage, honesty and unselfishness. It is a film that may be more important now than it’s ever been, a classic gem that only grows on you with age.

Refresh your memories of Pinocchio by watching the trailer here.

Cinderella

Talkie of the Week: Disney Series

USA 1950, 74 minutes, technicolor, Walt Disney Productions, Distributed by RKO Radio Pictures. Based on Cendrillon by Charles Perrault.

Plot summary: When Cinderella is denied attending the royal ball by her evil stepmother, her fairy godmother comes to her rescue with some Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo and turns the evening into an enchanting adventure that changes the young maid’s life.

Cinderella posterReview: In early 1950, Cinderella graced the silver screen as Disney’s first full-bodied, animated feature since Bambi in 1942. She was also Disney’s second princess. Beautiful, hands-on and wholesome, she didn’t only enchant Prince Charming but also a worldwide audience. Based on live action models Helene Stanley and Ilene Woods (who also gave Cinderella her voice), she was an ideal woman of the late 1940s: perky, feminine and full of grace.

Degraded to a maid in her late father’s home, Cinderella grew up to be resilient, hard-working and prettier than her evil step-sisters Anastasia and Drizella. Supported by her animal friends, she endures every chore and remark Lady Tremaine, her stepmother, has up her sleeve. Good-natured as she is, the young girl doesn’t believe her stepmother to be truly evil. At least not until she ruins her chances of going to the royal dance with her clumsy sisters. Heart-broken, Cinderella cries bitter tears about her shattered dream, tears only her Fairy Godmother knows how to dry. Pleasantly plumb and adorably scatterbrained, the elderly lady revives her goddaughter’s heartfelt wish with a sense of humor and some good old-fashioned magic. With a little help from her furry friends and an abandoned pumpkin, Cinderella turns into a lovely princess who wins the heart of the prince as soon as she arrives at his ball. Falling in love with him at first sight as well, Cinderella almost forgets her dress and coach are only an illusion for one night. And so, at midnight, she rushes away before the spell breaks and leaves her barefoot and plain before the man who has bewitched her with his smile. In her haste, she loses one of her shoes and barely makes it home before her stepmother and sisters arrive. The conclusion of the story is too well-known to be retold in just a few words. It’s the kind of end that made my heart grow bigger as a child, a perfect close for a Hollywood tale so beautifully animated and designed, it has captured the love and dreams of many girls for generations.

Although I am generally fond of Disney classics and almost exclusively prefer them to the studio’s contemporary animated features, Cinderella is my favorite. I love the music, the humor and the overall style. Cinderella, like Snow White, is my kind of princess and I’d adopt her Fairy Godmother in a heartbeat. Moreover, Cinderella has the most precious pets and although Prince Charming may not have enough screen time to make a lasting impression, for anyone who’s ever been in love, the duet he sings with Cinderella says it all. So this is Love is one of my favorite songs, a melody I can’t get out of my head for days once I’ve seen the movie again. As I’m typing this, I’m humming it again and it mends my heart. Mmmmmm. Mmmmmm. So this is love. For all of you who want to sing along, the film is available on DVD and Blu-ray. The perfect romantic film to herald spring, at least in my starry-eyed opinion.