Admittedly, the story the director tells may be little more than an excuse by means of which he is able to introduce some adventure or another, but, as these are all absolutely delightful and brimming with magic, the moviegoer is sure to be thrilled by them. Rather than becoming bored by the film's meagre narrative, the viewer will be caught up in the sense of fun with which it is suffused.
The best of the episodes Stevenson has crafted is that in which Mary Poppins, Bert, Jane, and Michael leap into a chalk drawing and find themselves in a colorful animated landscape. After the two adults have stopped at a riverside cafe, where they are served by dancing penguins, they go on to join the children for a ride on horses from a carousel, saving a fox from a band of hunters and joining in a horse race along their way. The actors' interactions with the different animated places and characters they encounter are, without exception, enthralling, and give this whole sequence a feeling of buoyant enchantment.
What is more, the musical numbers performed in this and several other parts of the movie are both memorable and fun. At various times, the viewer is treated to Mary Poppins convincing the Banks children to clean their room through a clever song and magical tricks, Bert and an army of chimneysweeps leaping about and performing amazing acrobatics in a forest of chimneys, a gang of intimidating bankers extolling the virtues of thrift to Michael, and much more. The movie is packed with such numbers.
Luckily, not only is the film pleasant to hear, it is also mesmerizing to look at. The inside of the Banks' house is, admittedly, forgettable, but its ordinariness is effectively used to emphasize the distinctiveness of nearly every other location, which are so given that sense of wonder that strange places have for any adventurous soul. The director, wisely, has not attempted to mimic the real world when he created such locales, but has, instead, given these different places a lovely artificiality that emphasizes their difference from the places in which the viewer lives his daily life. Even such places as the street outside the Banks' house or the pavement in front of a park seem like they belong more to the world of fairy tales than to that of waking experience.
In spite of all these numerous virtues, I must concede that Mary Poppins has a number of flaws as well. The ending is somewhat overly drawn out and unduly sentimental. The moral of the tale is forced. The Banks children are perhaps a little too cute, and Dick Van Dyke's Cockney accent is utterly atrocious. While the actor is entertaining to watch, and brings a great abundance of energy to his role, his accent can be annoying.
Fortunately, while not perfect, Mary Poppins is a marvelously fun film. It really is one of the best children's movies ever to have been made.
Review by Keith Allen
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