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Monday, February 17, 2014

Mary Poppins

I don't know what it is, but lately I've been on a classic Simpsons kick.

And, when I say "classic" Simpsons, I mean the first decade that the show aired.  Some of my all-time favourite episodes of "The Simpsons" come from the early years of the show (circa 1990-1999).  And, because I own most of these episodes on DVD box sets, I can watch them whenever I so desire.

And, I bet you're wondering what this has to do with today's Monday Matinee.  No, I am not doing the 2007 film "The Simpsons Movie", although I do admit that I did like it and could have justified making it a lengthy blog post.

However, I will state that a particular Simpsons episode did inspire my selection for this week's Monday Matinee.

Well...that, plus the fact that here in Ontario, it happens to be a statutory holiday known as "Family Day".  So, in this case, I decided to do a blog entry on a film that could be considered family-friendly.

Now, it seems hard to believe that "The Simpsons" have made a grand total of 541 episodes and counting.  It is now officially the longest-running show in prime time television.  Therefore, it's nearly impossible for me to select just one favourite episode from the whole series.  Many of them were wonderful - particularly during the early years.

But I will absolutely state that one of my favourite episodes of the series was the thirteenth episode of the eighth season of the series.  It originally aired on February 7, 1997, and the title of the show was "Simpsoncalifragilisticexpiala(Annoyed Grunt)cious". 

Try saying that title seven times fast!

It was an episode that featured a stressed-out Marge losing patience with her family to the point where her hair was falling out in huge clumps, and the family made the decision to hire a live in nanny by the name of Shary Bobbins to come and help out.  At first, the relationship between the Simpsons and Shary Bobbins was practically perfect in every way, and every single member of the Simpson family - and even many of the citizens of Springfield - were absolutely charmed by her positivity and her angelic singing voice.  Of course, when Shary tried to leave after fulfilling her commitment, the Simpsons went back to their boorish ways, and drove Shary Bobbins to get wasted with Barney Gumble in the Simpsons own living room.  She was then sucked into the engine of a jumbo jet on her way home and is presumed dead.  Or at the very least, maimed beyond recognition.

Now, there was just something about that episode I loved.  Maybe it's the fact that I am a huge fan of spoofs in general, or maybe it was because the episode was so well-written that it was entertaining...or maybe it was because the episode was so very much like a beloved children's film classic that I remember watching when I was really little.

A movie that is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary this year.

Now, there's been a renewed interest in this film so far this year.  In addition to it being the fiftieth anniversary of the movie, there was even a film released late last year entitled "Saving Mr. Banks", which starred Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson - which depicted the struggles that Walt Disney had in greenlighting the project and getting the approval from the author of the story, P.L. Travers - who reportedly despised the final product of the film adaptation.

I, on the other hand, have a soft spot for this movie.  It was probably one of the first movies that I remember watching on television, and I think I must have seen it at least three dozen times as I was growing up.  Maybe it was Julie Andrews' beautiful singing voice as she floated down towards the streets of London.  Maybe it was the fact that I wanted to have a nanny just like her.  Or, maybe it was the fact that I was kind of laughing at just how less than perfect Dick Van Dyke's Cockney accent really was.

At any rate, this entry is all about the Disney film "Mary Poppins", which was first released in theatres on August 27, 1964.  The film was filmed entirely on set at the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, California and was directed by Robert Stevenson.  The film received a total of thirteen Academy Award nominations, and of those nominations, it won five - including the Best Actress Award for Julie Andrews!

Now, I don't really think I need to go over too much in plot detail (besides, the behind the scenes action is much more interesting anyway), but just to give you a little bit of a description, the story begins in London, England circa 1910.  And, while the film is called "Mary Poppins", we actually don't get to see her appear until approximately twenty to thirty minutes into the film.  Instead, we're first introduced to a character named Bert (played by Dick Van Dyke who is using one of the worst Cockney accents ever spoken in film - it's really quite atrocious).  And Bert is someone that you could consider a jack-of-all-trades but master of none.  When we first meet him, he is entertaining people outside of a park as a one man band, and naturally, some are interested, but others walk by wondering if the man they passed is really a Cockney or if he's an American pretending to be Cockney.

I promise I'll shut up about the Cockney thing.  For real.

Anyway, during one of his performances, he feels that the wind is beginning to change and this is the signal that his good friend is set to make a return any day now.

Who this friend is when he first mentions this little detail, we don't exactly know at the time...though given that the name of the film is "Mary Poppins", I think it's pretty much a no-brainer.

Meanwhile, there is turmoil going on at the Banks family residence.  Yet another nanny has made yet another grand exit, and the patriarch of the family, George Banks (David Tomlinson), and his wife Winifred (Glynis Johns) have had enough of his children's unruly behaviour.

The Banks family was considered to be extremely dysfunctional at the time.  Mind you, the definition of 1910 dysfunction wasn't nearly as bad as, say, dysfunction in the year 2014...but still, when you consider the two Banks children, Jane and Michael (Karen Dotrice and Matthew Garber), have chased away at least four different nannies due to awful tricks and pranks that they played on them.  

Little did Mr. George Banks know that the only reason why Jane and Michael acted out in defiance against the nannies that were hired for the family was because they really didn't want a nanny to watch them.  What they really wanted was their parents to make more time for them.  But when the children's kite gets destroyed, and they want nothing more than for George to fix it, he completely rebuffs their request and makes the decision to hire yet another nanny.  Michael and Jane decide that they want to have their own say over what kind of nanny they want, and so they design their own advertisement for what kind of nanny they really want to have in their care.  Unfortunately, George takes their letter, tears it to shreds, and throws it in the fireplace, believing it to be the end of it.

But then, some miracle happens, and all of a sudden, a woman clutching a black bumbershoot (that's umbrella in old-speak) descends down in front of the Banks household.  Her name is Mary Poppins (Andrews), and she immediately causes great concern for George Banks, who seems dumbfounded that Mary has responded to the ad that the children placed despite his ripping it up.  But Mary Poppins makes the promise to George that she will be firm with the children, and teach them right from wrong.

And, hey, if her rule seems to include songs and dances such as these examples below, all the better, right?

But as Mary Poppins soon begins to charm her way into the Banks family residence, it makes George ponder if he made the right decisions in his life.  He wonders if spending so much time away from his kids was really good parenting.  And when a crisis happens at Banks' workplace which could destroy everything that he has worked for, it's up to Bert and Mary to try and help the Banks family get through it the best way they know how.

And, I think that will wrap up the plot summary of the whole film.  It's much better to watch the whole thing from the beginning anyway.  But, there's lots of trivia that is associated with this film - some good, some bad, and some ugly.  Would you like to know what secrets emerged from behind the scenes of this film?  I know you do.

1 - Sadly, one of the child stars of this film died tragically young.  Matthew Garber contracted hepatitis while on vacation in India, and sadly passed away from complications of the disease in June 1977 when he was just 21.

2 - That's not Julie Andrews' real hair in the film.  She wore a wig.

3 - The film premiered at Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles, California.

4 - The character of Bert is actually an amalgamation of several characters that appear in the book version.

5 - Actresses who were considered for the role of Mary Poppins included Bette Davis, Angela Lansbury, and Mary Martin.

6 - Dick Van Dyke blamed his vocal coach J. Pat O'Malley for his less than practically perfect Cockney accent - as he claimed that O'Malley had a worse British accent than he did!

7 - This was Arthur Treacher's final film role - he played the role of Constable Jones.

8 - Was the top grossing film of 1965, and the highest grossing Disney film for two decades straight!

9 - Dick Van Dyke - in addition to playing the role of Bert - also played the role of Mr. Dawes.

10 - Disney's first DVD release.

11 - The planning and composing of all the songs were composed over a period of two and a half years.

12 - Since the film was first released on VHS in 1981, it holds a distinct record.  It's the Disney film that holds the longest status of "in-print" out of any other Disney movie.

13 - The first Disney premiere that Walt Disney attended since 1937's "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs".

14 - David Tomlinson had never sang professionally prior to the filming of "Mary Poppins", and was a little nervous about performing in the film.  I think he did well.

15 - Take a look at the scene in which all the prospective nannies are standing in a queue before Mary Poppins makes her arrival.  If you look closely, you'll see that the majority of them are male.

16 - You know that iconic scene which had Bert and Mary drawing with chalk which lead to the Supercalifragilisticexpialadocious song?  If author P.L. Travers had her way, it would have been removed completely!

17 - As incentive for completing the tea party scene, Matthew Garber - who was afraid of heights - was given ten cents per take.

18 - Julie Andrews provided the whistling for the robin during the "Spoonful of Sugar" scene.

19 - Julie Andrews was left hanging in mid-air during one lengthy scene.  Accidentally, one of the stagehands lowered her wire harness at a very fast speed, which made Andrews very upset.  When a crew member asked if she was down yet, I believe her exact words were something along the line of "you bloody well better believe she is!"

20 - Apparently, this would not be the only time that Julie Andrews would use the soundstage that Mary Poppins was filmed on.  Exactly thirty-seven years later, she would appear on that stage again filming 2001's "The Princess Diaries".

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