Walt Disney made many popular classic films during his long career, but one film is considered his masterpiece by critics and movie lovers. That film is his 1964 musical fantasy "Mary Poppins," based on the popular books by Pamela "P.L." Travers. Walt's daughters introduced him to them in the 1930s, and he immediately saw their potential as a film. He contacted Pamela and tried to buy the move rights in 1938, but she refused. Travers felt that no movie could do her character justice. Another factor may have been that Disney had not yet made a feature film, and was known only as the producer of cartoons.
Walt, however, would not give up. He believed the Poppins books could make a good film, and met with P.L several times over the next 23 years to convince her. She finally agreed in 1961 after obtaining script approval rights. Walt then began to assemble his team. The first thing he did was assign the Sherman brothers to write the film's songs. The Shermans became a major asset. They worked closely with Walt, screenwriters Bill Walsh and Donald DaGradi, and director Robert Stevenson on the script while composing the songs. The brothers made several big suggestions, including moving the story to the Edwardian era(it was a more colorful time) and making it about Mary reuniting the family.
Casting was up next. After seeing Julie Andrews and Richard Burton in a scene from "Camelot" on "The Ed Sullivan Show", DaGradi and the Shermans recommendd that Walt see the show while he was in New York. They felt she was perfect for the role of Mary Poppins.. After meeting Julie backstage, Walt agreed and signed her. Walt saw Dick Van Dyke on his popular TV show and hired him to play Mary's best friend Bert. For the Banks children, Disney brought to Hollywood two talented youngsters from his film "The Three Lives Of Thomasina", Karen Dotrice and Matthew Garber. David Tomlinson and Glynis Johns were cast as parents George and Winifred Banks. Disney rounded out the cast with such great comic actors as Hermione Baddeley, Reta Shaw, and Ed Wynn.
Meanwhile, the beautiful sets and costumes were being created while work began on the long cartoon segment. Rehearsals began in early 1963. Filming took place between May and September. Post-production work, including animation on the "Jolly Holiday"/"Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" sequence, took another eleven months.
After the biggest publicity campaign in Disney history, "Mary Poppins" opened at Radio City Music Hall on September 26, 1964. Critics called it Walt Disney's masterpiece. They especially praised the performances, songs, and direction. Audiences loved the movie, and made it 1964's biggest hit. It was the Disney studio's most successful film ever.
In 1965, the movie was nominated for thirteen Academy Awards, including Best Picture. It won five Oscars: Best Actress(Julie Andrews), Best Film Editing, Best Visual Effects, Best Original Musical Score, and Best Original Song("Chim Chim Cher-ee").
Looking at "Mary Poppins" today, it is easy to see why the movie has become a timeless classic. Its story is one that audiences can identify with. The performances are superb. Julie Andrews is absolutely perfect, making one of the most amazing film debuts in history and showing why she deserved the Best Actress Oscar. Dick Van Dyke has never been better. Karen Dotrice and Matthew Garber are delightful. David Tomlinson and Glynis Johns are wonderful. The supporting cast are hilarious.
The Sherman brothers wrote their greatest score for the movie. The songs are witty, amusing, tuneful, and memorable. "A Spoonful Of Sugar," "Jolly Holiday," "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious," "Feed The Birds'," and "Chim Chim Cher-ee" all became popular standards. The Shermans called "Feed The Birds" the "song in "Mary Poppins" that is nearest and dearest to our hearts." It was also Walt Disney's favorite song.
Guess what? One person did not like "Mary Poppins": Pamela Travers! She disliked the movie, feeling that it did not do her beloved character justice. Travers also felt mistreated by Walt and his staff, and they reportedly did not care for her.To see what the relationship was like, watch Disney's 2013 film "Saving Mr. Banks" with Emma Thompson as Pamela Travers and Tom Hanks as Walt Disney. So when producer Cameron Mackintosh approached her years later about a "Mary Poppins" stage musical, she would only agree if British writers and staff created it-no Americans involved!