MARY POPPINS – Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman
Original Review by Craig Lysy
Walt Disney had long kept the book Mary Poppins in his office and was determined to one day bring it to the big screen for his daughters. The book series authored by P. L. Travers offered a series of fantastic tales, which unfortunately lacked a cohesive story. Disney tasked the Sherman brothers and screenplay writer Don DaGradi to create a cogent narrative. Robert Stevenson was tasked with directing the film and he secured a fine cast, which included Julie Andrews making her acting debut as Mary Poppins, Dick Van Dyke as Bert, David Tomlinson as George Banks, Glynis Johns as Winifred Banks, and Karen Dotrice and Matthew Garber the Banks children Jane and Michael. The story tells the tale of a nanny who comes to the aid of a family in disarray. She uses her magical gifts to bring back joy into the lives of the children, but to also reconnect George with his family. The movie was both a critical and commercial success earning eight Academy Award nominations, winning five for Best Actress, Best Film Editing, Best Special Effects, Best Original Song and Best Film Score.
Disney’s longstanding demands for songwriters is well known – the songs must be singable, have memorable lyrics, and bear melodies that would resonate with the public for years to come. He entrusted his vision to the very talented Sherman Brothers who so impressed him that he offered them contracts – the first and only contracts Disney ever offered to songwriters. They wrote all the songs and the underscore as well. However, since the film had evolved into a traditional musical, they wanted someone from The Great White Way to orchestrate their score in the style of Broadway, and as such Irwin Kostal, who had recently won an Academy Award for West Side Story, was brought in to assist.
We open with the film with “Overture”, a wonderful score highlight. We see a late afternoon aerial panorama of London with Mary sitting daintily on a cloud, over which the opening credits roll. The Shermans provide their primary song themes rendered as a wonderful medley: “Feed The Birds”, “Just A Spoon Full Of Sugar”, “Chim Chim Cher-Ea”, “Supercalifragilistceexpialidocious”, and “Just A Spoon Full Of Sugar”. Cue 23 on CD2 offers a wonderful extended version, which I recommend. In “One Man Band” we see one-man band street performer Bert entertaining a crowd, which the Shermans support with an orchestral rendering of the “Jolly Holiday” song, which abounds with happiness and an incredible lightness of being with its dance like cadence. “Sister Suffragette” is a fun cue, which reveals impassioned suffragette Winifred Banks returning home and joined by her domestic servants in singing a spirited rendering of the Suffragette song. The lyrics are clever and pointed (”Though we adore men individually/ We agree that as a group they’re rather stupid”), and the acting is funny and over the top, which the Sherman brothers capture perfectly. George Banks arrives home and sings his signature song, “The Life I Lead”, which declares, “It’s the age of men,” thus informing us of his very traditional view of English society and home life. George is patriarchal, stuffy, set in his ways, and the song perfectly captures his nature. “The Perfect Nanny” features Jane and Matthew, who are simply adorable, singing a most tender song. Clearly there is a void; a longing in their lives (their estranged and distant father) and the song captures these feeling as they idealize the perfect nanny. What a sweet cue.
We come to a complex multi-scenic cue. In “Air Mail” George has torn up the letter Jane and Matthew wrote to hire a new nanny. And we see the letter fragments ascend magically up the chimney. Sherman supports the ascent with a wondrous ascent upon strings adorned with glorious harp glissandi. At 0:20 we segue into “Admiral Boom” where we see him in uniform atop his rooftop, which is fashioned as a ship’s command deck complete with mast! Sherman’s captures his pompous spirit with the Admiral Boom Theme, which bears a nautical sensibility, with a comedic undercurrent. At 0:45 we segue into “The Not-So-Perfect Nannies” where we see a very long line of nanny applicants at the Banks home. As the cue title states, these nannies are less than perfect and Sherman informs us of this with a dissonant horns rendering of The Perfect Nanny Theme. Several more odd and discordant statements of the Perfect Nanny Theme follow as a fierce wind rises. As Karen and Matthew look out their balcony in surprise, we see each of the applicants, one by one, blown away! At 2:02 we segue into “Mary Poppins Arrives” atop ethereal tremolo strings, which usher in the Spoon Full Of Sugar Theme, as the children see Mary Poppins descending from the heavens. She bemuses George, secures employment and magically ascends atop the bannister to greet the children. The Spoon Full Of Sugar and The Perfect Nanny Themes join in wondrous interplay!
“A Spoonful of Sugar” is a splendid score highlight, which offers a timeless song that is as sweet as its name. This is our first display of Andrews’s superb vocals. After Mary is shown her rooms he uses her magic to teach the children that there is in every chore fun to be found, if you only look. As the children also use magic to clean up their toys an accelerando is unleashed to support the growing comedy! Folks, this is a perfect marriage of song and film scene!
In “Pavement Artist” Mary takes the kids on an outing! We see Bert using chalk to create pavement art in the park. His efforts are supported by him singing a variant of the “Chim Chim Cher-ee” song, as he dances atop his handiwork. “Jolly Holiday” is a wonderful score highlight! It reveals Bert meeting the kids and preceding to entertain them with comedic story telling and dancing. He entices Mary to use her magic and they all jump into one of his pavement paintings! They are now in an animated realm, and wearing beautiful clothes. As the kids run off to the carnival, Bert and Mary dance along a country road. They take turns singing the song “Jolly Holiday”. The song is light hearted, fun, and filled with a joie de vivre. I must say that the Sherman brothers just warm our hearts, and provide a perfect synergy with the film’s astounding visuals of animated animals and dancing umbrellas. In the same scene we continue into “Jolly Holiday (Reprise)” where we see animated penguins wait on their table. The Sherman’s unleash slapstick comedic scoring using kazoos as they flock to their table!! The scene continues with “Penguin Dance” where we see Bert dance with the penguins in a delightfully silly rendering of the Jolly Holiday Theme, concluding in slapstick fashion atop kazoos!
“The Carousel Horses” again features the Jolly Holiday Theme with the metallic charm and sensibility of a music box as we see Bert, Mary and the kids ridi ng carousel horses. Magically the horses leave the carousel atop a graceful waltz-like rendering of the Jolly Holiday Theme. At 2:18 regal fanfare ushers in a foxhunt with our group joining in the hunt, supported by spirited pursuit music, which interplays with the Jolly Holiday and Spoonful of Sugar Themes! The craziness continues as they enter a racetrack and rollick with wild abandon! Well Mary wins the race and is presented with roses. When asked what word could describe how she felt, she replies that there is a perfect word and launches into one of the film’s best songs – the completely zany “Supercailfragilisticexpialidocious”. The song is great fun, has outrageous lyrics and a silliness, which endears. We conclude in fine fashion atop an accelerando and flourish! Well in “Pavement Artist (Reprise)” a rainstorm comes to end the adventure as we see our party emerge from the chalk painting that melts away in the rain. As Mary and the children depart, Bert dances and sings a final reprise of the “Chim Chim Cher-ee” “Chim Chim Cher-ee” song. In “Stay Awake” the kids are too excited from all the fun and do not want to go to sleep. Sherman has Mary sing a warm and tender lullaby song for the children, which sends them off to sleep and again reveals the singular beauty of her sterling vocals.
“Trouble at Uncle Albert’s” reveals Mary and the kids off on another adventure to the fish market, supported by the A Spoon Full Of Sugar theme. As they converse with Admiral Boom his theme joins in. When their pet dog informs Mary that Uncle Albert is ill, they change plans and head to his home. They find him giddy and floating near the ceiling! This launches us into the “I Love to Laugh” song, which offers more giggling and silliness than song. But it is infectious and you cannot help but smile! In “A British Bank (The Life I Lead)” George has returned home and is appalled at the outrageous stories his kids are telling him. He calls in Mary to reproach her and launches into his signature song The Life I Lead. Mary finesses him by co-opting his song and using it with her new lyrics to win the day. As the kids prepare for bed Mary sings one of the most heartfelt songs of the film, “Feed the Birds (Tuppence a Bag)” as we descend through animation into a snow orb of Saint Paul’s cathedral. Although abiding in sadness, the lyrics speak of kindness and offer one of the films most moving and tender moments.
“Father’s Footsteps” is supported by George’s song The Life I Lead as he and the kids walk to his bank. The Feed the Birds melody joins as they pass the cathedral, where remarkably we see the old woman Mary revealed from their journey into the snow orb! Their trip continues and they arrive at the bank propelled by a spirited rendering of The Life I Lead theme. “Fidelity Fiduciary Bank” offers a stuffy and traditional song that is kindred to George’s The Life I Lead theme, imparting the same formal and conservative convention. Sung by the George and his fellow bankers as a chorus, which he hopes will instill financial prudence into his children. In “Panic at the Bank” Matthew screams for the bank president to give back his money, which he wants to give to the old woman to feed the cathedral birds. His demands for his money are misinterpreted by the other bank patrons, who all panic, believing a bank failure is occurring! The most intense music of the score is offered as the bank descends into chaos and the children manage to flee. Interplay of The Life I Lead and Feed The Birds themes atop a string ostinato animates their flight. Bert who is soiled from cleaning chimneys finds them in an alley and prepares to take them home to safety. When they ask why he is so dirty he launches into his signature song as they dance their way home. “Chim Chim Cher-ee/March Over the Rooftops” is just a wonderful score highlight. This marvelous song won the Best Original Song award at the Oscars that year. It is one of the finest songs ever written and testimony to the genius of the Sherman brothers.
Mrs. Banks convinces Bert to sweep their chimney and an updraft sucks both Matthew and Jane up to the roof. Mary comes home and she and Bert join them aloft. They decide to go on another marvelous adventure and Mary leads them across the rooftops of London. At 2:35 Sherman supports their trek with A Spoon Full Of Sugar rendered alla marcia! It is all great fun with a marvelous scenic panorama of the London skyline. Bravo! On their way back they encounter Bert’s chimney sweep mates who launch into a dance chorus in the fun cue “Step in Time”, one of the score’s best and most entertaining moments! The energetic music’s fast repeating phrases propels the scene with great energy, which is infectious! The dancing is great fun, animated, and just makes you want to join in. The silhouettes of the men dancing against the red lit London sky are quite beautiful. A launch of fireworks by an outraged Admiral Boom drives every one down the chimney into the Banks residence where the dancing and merriment continues until Mr. Banks returns, and send them packing!
In “A Man Has Dreams” George receives a call from Bank management that portends his being sacked. He is filled with sadness and expresses The Life I Lead song with a grim resignation. Bert, turns the tables on George by offering new lyrics to his song that remind him of how precious children are, and how fleeting the joys of their childhood. Bert’s reprise of A Spoonful of Sugar drives home the point and George has an awakening. “Mr. Banks Is Discharged” opens with strings doloroso as Matthew apologizes and returns his tuppence. As George leaves to meet his fate with bank management, his progress is supported by a warm and inspired rendering of the Feed The Birds melody, replete with wordless religioso chorus. A tolling bell greets his arrival and a dour alla marcia rendering of The Life I Lead carries him to the board room. As he is unceremoniously discharged, he has an epiphany, at last realizing the importance of joy, laughter, fun and the preciousness of his children. He leaves the boardroom dancing, singing and supported by A Spoon Full Of Sugar! At 4:07 the Bank president finally gets George’s joke, begins laughing and rises to the ceiling atop the I Love To Laugh melody! Lastly, at 4:20 harp glissandi and low register horns support the weather vane turning from East to West, thus informing us that Mary’s departure is at hand.
We come now to the film’s glorious finale, “Let’s Go Fly a Kite”, the happiest of endings, where the film achieves its emotional apogee. George, who has rediscovered the joy of living, arrives home with a kite! As he takes Matthew and Jane with him to the park, he begins singing the score’s finest song Let’s Go Fly a Kite, whose lyrics I provide. This song offers enduring testimony to the Sherman brother’s musical genius! Its melody is bright, uplifting, life affirming, and fills us with a joie de vivre. Everyone joins in the celebratory singing and we finish in great spirits with a wondrous flourish! For me this is one of the most satisfying film endings ever, one for which I never tire. Bravo!
Allow me to thank Randy Thorton and Walt Disney records for the extraordinary release of the complete score to Mary Poppins. The sound quality is pristine and of the highest order. Folks, Mary Poppins is considered to be Walt Disney’s crowning achievement, and the only one of his films to be honored with an Academy Award Best Picture nomination. The score, lyrics and songs demonstrate the Sherman brother’s mastery of their craft and resonate through the years as their Magnum Opus. Scene after scene we see a perfect synergy of film narrative, character and music, which is precious in that it is so seldom achieved with such skill and excellence. In my judgment the dual wins for best score and best song were well deserved. This 3 CD release, complete with outtakes, alternative cues and the Lost Chords makes it a premium purchase, one that I whole-heartily recommend. It just does not get any better than this!
Buy the Mary Poppins soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store
- DISC ONE
- Buena Vista Fanfare (0:08)
- Overture (2:58)
- One Man Band (0:56)
- Sister Suffragette (performed by Glynis Johns, Hermione Baddeley, and Reta Shaw) (1:43)
- The Life I Lead (performed by David Tomlinson) (2:00)
- The Perfect Nanny (performed by Karen Dotrice and Matthew Garber) (1:37)
- Air Mail/Admiral Boom/The Not-So-Perfect Nannies/Mary Poppins Arrives (3:07)
- A Spoonful of Sugar (performed by Julie Andrews) (4:06)
- Pavement Artist (performed by Dick Van Dyke) (1:53)
- Jolly Holiday (performed by Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke, Bill Lee, Ginny Tyler, Paul Frees, Marc Breaux, Marni Nixon, and Thurl Ravenscroft) (5:35)
- Jolly Holiday – Reprise (performed by Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke) (1:11)
- Penguin Dance (2:20)
- The Carousel Horses (4:17)
- Supercailfragilisticexpialidocious (performed by Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke) (2:00)
- Pavement Artist – Reprise (performed by Dick Van Dyke) (1:01)
- Stay Awake (performed by Julie Andrews) (1:42)
- Trouble at Uncle Albert’s (1:40)
- I Love to Laugh (performed by Ed Wynn, Julie Andrews, and Dick Van Dyke) (2:42)
- A British Bank/The Life I Lead (performed by David Tomlinson and Julie Andrews) (2:07)
- Feed the Birds (performed by Julie Andrews) (3:49)
- Father’s Footsteps (1:17)
- Fidelity Fiduciary Bank (performed by David Tomlinson and Dick Van Dyke) (3:30)
- Panic at the Bank (3:21)
- Chim Chim Cher-ee/March Over the Rooftops (performed by Dick Van Dyke, Julie Andrews, Karen Dotrice, and Matthew Garber) (5:11)
- Step in Time (performed by Dick Van Dyke and The Chimney Sweep Chorus) (8:42)
- A Man Has Dreams/The Life I Lead/A Spoonful of Sugar (performed by David Tomlinson and Dick Van Dyke) (4:27)
- Mr. Banks Is Discharged (4:45)
- Let’s Go Fly a Kite (performed by David Tomlinson, Dick Van Dyke, and the Londoners) (1:49)
- DISC TWO
- The Perfect Nanny – Demo (performed by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman) (1:11)
- Jolly Holiday – Demo (performed by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman) (2:06)
- The Pearly Song [Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious] – Demo (performed by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman) (1:30)
- Stay Awake – Demo (performed by Richard M. Sherman) (1:33)
- Chim Chim Cher-ee – Demo (performed by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman) (2:40)
- I Love to Laugh – Demo (performed by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman) (2:06)
- Feed the Birds – Demo (performed by Richard M. Sherman) (2:55)
- Let’s Go Fly a Kite – Demo (performed by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman) (1:45)
- Mary Poppins Melody – Pre-Demo (performed by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman) (1:07)
- Mary Poppins Melody [New Recording] (performed by Kate Higgins) (2:06)
- Admiral Boom – Demo (performed by Richard M. Sherman) (1:16)
- Admiral Boom [New Recording] (performed by Randy Crenshaw, Jeff Gunn, and Dennis Kyle) (1:56)
- The Right Side – Pre-Demo (performed by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman) (2:27)
- The Right Side [New Recording] (performed by Juliana Hansen) (2:36)
- The Chimpanzoo – Demo (performed by Richard M. Sherman) (1:06)
- The Chimpanzoo [New Recording] (performed by Bob Joyce, Jeff Gunn, Randy Crenshaw, and Dennis Kyle) (1:59)
- The Land of Sand -Demo (performed by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman) (1:35)
- The Land of Sand [New Recording] (performed by Kate Higgins, Juliana Hansen, Jeff Gunn, and Bob Joyce) (2:32)
- The North Pole Polka -Demo (performed by Richard M. Sherman) (1:43)
- The North Pole Polka [New Recording] (performed by Jeff Gunn, Bob Joyce, Richard M. Sherman, Kate Higgins, and Dennis Kyle) (2:12)
- The Eyes of Love -Demo (performed by Richard M. Sherman) (2:46)
- The Eyes of Love [New Recording] (performed by Juliana Hansen) (3:32)
- Overture [Album Version] (4:07)
- DISC THREE
- Cherry Tree Lane (0:22)
- Mr. Banks Decided to Hire a Nanny Himself (0:29)
- The Children Write Their Own Advertisement (1:02)
- The Line of Applicants and Mary Poppins Arrives (1:45)
- Notes on Mary Meeting the Banks (0:39)
- Up to the Nursery (2:44)
- Bert and the Talking Pictures (3:45)
- A Carousel Horse Ride to the Seashore (1:18)
- The Return Home (1:51)
- The Next Morning We Meet the Sweep (2:08)
- Uncle Albert’s (1:26)
- A Change in the Wind and an Adventure with Admiral Boom (2:19)
- The Bird Woman (2:01)
- Mr. Banks and the Compass (2:58)
- The Compass Sequence: Timbuktu (3:32)
- The Compass Sequence: The Land of Sand (2:05)
- The Compass Sequence: Tea in China (1:29)
- The Compass Sequence: The North Pole (2:01)
- The Return Home (3:08)
- Everyone Descends on Cherry Tree Lane (1:57)
- Mary Departs (2:03)
- Hollywood Spotlight Microphone (17:27)
- The Sherman Brothers Reminisce About Their Work On Mary Poppins (16:07)
Running Time: 202 minutes 36 seconds
Walt Disney Records D002036292 (1969/1987)
Music composed by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman. Conducted by Irwin Kostal. Orchestrations by Irwin Kostal. Score produced by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman. Album produced by Randy Thornton