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.

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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.

Sleeping Beauty

Talkie of the Week: Disney Series

USA 1959, 76 minutes, Technicolor / Technirama, Walt Disney Productions, Distributed by Buena Vista Distribution. Based on La Belle au Bois Dormant by Charles Perrault, with music arrangements from Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s ballet Sleeping Beauty

Plot summary: On her sixteenth birthday, Princess Aurora is doomed to prick her finger on a spindle and fall asleep until her true love comes to kiss her awake.

Sleeping-Beauty-PosterReview: As a child, I dreamed of being a great sketch artist. I wanted to be able to draw characters as cute as Minnie Mouse and as easy on the eyes as one of Disney’s early princesses. Sleeping Beauty was my favorite. I had a picture of her in a book, a book I read so often, its binding is now broken. Luckily, the picture is still as immaculate as Aurora’s beauty and I thus still cherish the artwork as one of Disney’s best. Truth be told, I cannot recall watching the film when I was little but that book has left a lasting impression on me. Watching the film now, as a grown-up, is like adding voices to a film I have already seen on paper many times. And it is every bit as wonderful as I had always imagined. Especially the three fairies, Flora, Fauna and Merryweather won my heart. Their warmth, woolgathering and practical sense of humor puts the cherry on top of a film that turned out to be Disney’s last fairytale until The Little Mermaid revived the genre in 1989.

To summarize the story: on her day of christening, Princess Aurora is blessed with beauty and song by two good fairies. Maleficent, their evil peer, drops in uninvited and casts a spell on the baby princess: on her sixteenth birthday, she shall prick her finger on a spindle and die. A third good fairy tries her best to attenuate the curse and rephrases it so the princess will only fall into a deep slumber that can only be broken by true love. Alarmed by their daughter’s destiny, the King and Queen ban all spinning wheels from their kingdom and entrust their only child in the care of the three good fairies to keep her safe from harm. Raised as Briar Rose, the princess spends an enchanted childhood in a remote little house in the woods. Unaware of her title and status, she reaches her sixteen’s birthday but is ultimately unable to escape her fate. Saved by Prince Phillip who fell in love with her voice and charm, she breaks the malicious spell and lives happily ever after.

Considered corny and trite by some in our cynical times, Princess Aurora and her dashing prince are still beautiful to look at while their story remains engaging and timeless. Although released in January 1959, production started as early as 1951 and kept designers, musicians and actors busy over the course of nearly a complete decade. Inspired by medieval times, Sleeping Beauty’s visual style set itself apart from Disney’s previous productions. Princess Aurora and her prince, however, were once again based on live action models, following a tradition Cinderella and Snow White had started before them. Despite the praise for its elegant villain, the film (like other productions of the era) fell surprisingly flat with audiences and critics alike. Now considered a Disney classic, it may be hard to understand why. Based on a fairytale classic, Sleeping Beauty introduced new aesthetics as well as wonderful musical arrangements. Sadly, though, it did not manage to create the kind of sparkle Pinocchio and Bambi had a decade or two earlier. Still breathtaking in its detail and color today, the feature film can be marveled at in full length on DVD and Blu-ray. A true gem for anyone who still has a heart for some good old-fashioned romance and three genuine fairies who are a treat of their own.