With the cobbled streets of good old Victorian Britain, Disney provides a sickly, bittersweet variant of the suffragette movement, a privileged lady and lad fight for equal rights with the help of a nanny, the titular Mary Poppins. As much a Disney film as it is a Julie Andrews platform, the consistencies found within are more than enough to craft a tight, entertaining narrative. Looking after two runts of a family that couldn’t care for where their children go or what they get up to, the core of Mary Poppins is to present a comfortable narrative, stretch it out to breaking point, and fill in the gaps with a constant barrage of songs and supporting performers.
Sublime actor and honorary cockney Dick van Dyke’s appearance here is an exceptional example of his abilities on the screen. Grand enough chemistry with Julie Andrews sees us through the lulls in pacing, of which there are more than a few. Sharing the screen together for the odd musical number certainly makes up for the overwhelmingly comical and grating accent Dyke has in his possession. He’s either received a bump on the head or has never heard the cockney accent, maybe both, but Dyke is a charmer. No way around it, he exudes confidence and electricity here, even when he’s grappling with a role not tailor-made for him.
While Dyke may struggle to bring his A-Game to a role not made for him, it’s hard to argue against anything Andrews brings to the table. Her role as the eponymous Mary Poppins is a marvellous bit of cinema, one of those roles that will be remembered for generations at a time. Rightly so, her presence on the screen is exceptional and carries the film through its slower moments, of which there are many. She deflects a great deal of the negativity I feel for the supporting performers and underwhelming songs, at least two of them are singed into my memory forever. Earworms are commonplace throughout, but none strike greater than the opening number or the inevitable Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, a surprisingly charming song that has embedded itself in the culture of bright, shiny children’s classics.
A lengthy, unrelentingly cheery film that practices its message well, Mary Poppins has inconsistencies that make for an unflinchingly optimistic bit of creativity. Solid enough to enjoy, but a surprising slog at times, inconsistent and not quite aware of its meandering dialogue that take us, ultimately, nowhere special. Sure, the animated segments are nice, but they don’t feel all that removed from the animated classics in Disney’s repertoire, which are shorter, succinct and fun. That feels like a knock on Mary Poppins, whose cast work tirelessly hard to bring us amicable results, and that’s all we can hope for with this puzzlingly loved classic.