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'Mary Poppins' Dances Off the Screen

March 26, 1993|BARBARA SALTZMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

When Walt Disney's "Mary Poppins" burst upon the scene in 1964, children suddenly began wishing for nannies like Julie Andrews--and few parents, or nannies for that matter, could live up to the comparison.

Now, the Walt Disney Co./ Image Entertainment has released that quintessential multiple Oscar-winning musical based on the P. L. Travers stories in an "Exclusive Archive Collection" two-disc laser set ($70) loaded with material from the Disney vaults. The rich, crisp letterboxed print dances off the screen in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.66:1, which makes for rather narrow bands.

The Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman music, too, in first-class stereo digital sound, envelops the room with as many "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" hummable phrases as any household could be expected to tolerate.

But all the sugar-coated songs and story come with an even grander spoonful of sugar: archival material offering insightful glimpses into how animated and live-action scenes were combined. Few filmmakers hung onto this kind of footage and rough cuts the way Disney did, and now the Disney studios have found the perfect means of utilizing it.

The first three sides of the 139-minute feature are in the extended play, CLV mode, producing less-than-perfect freeze-framing of live-action/animated sequences. The fourth CAV, standard-play side, however, enables you to freeze-frame the supplemental material, clearly revealing much of the behind-the-scenes work of the Disney artists.

While there are no interviews and no second audio track with any of the principals involved in the making of the film, there are a few pluses that make this disc fascinating.

The screen splits in Chapter 25, framing the storyboards of the "Jolly Holiday" Andrews-Dick Van Dyke fantasy with the corresponding film sequences, so you can see how closely they parallel each other. Watch the animated sequences that anticipate the positioning of the live actors--as you deal with the lilting musical sequence for the umpteenth time--next to the completed sequence with the freeze-frame button handy.

Other conceptual drawings and paintings and archival photos, along with the original theatrical trailer and the overweening short "Hollywood Goes to a World Premiere," featuring yet more snippets from "Jolly Holiday" and other songs, fill up 21 minutes of the fourth side. There is no question that when this "Mary" pops in, she's going to hold you hostage for some time.

New Movies Just Out: "Pinocchio" (CLV, The Walt Disney Co./Image Entertainment, $30); "Mr. Baseball" (MCA/Universal, letterbox, $35); "Captain Ron" (Touchstone/Image Entertainment, $40); "Whispers in the Dark" (Paramount, widescreen, $35); "Mistress" (LIVE, $35).

Coming Soon: The 25th anniversary, widescreen edition of the Dustin Hoffman comedy "The Graduate," featuring interviews with cast members, is coming in early May--from New Line/Image Entertainment, at $40. Also from Hollywood Pictures/Image Entertainment about that same time, the letterbox version of "The Distinguished Gentleman," the comedy with Eddie Murphy, $40.

Older Titles Just Released: "The Grass Is Greener" (Republic, $35), Cary Grant, Robert Mitchum, Deborah Kerr and Jean Simmons in sophisticated comedy about marriage.

"Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here" (MGM/UA, 1969, $35), drama about a manhunt for a Native American accused of murder, featuring Robert Redford and Katharine Ross.

"That Touch of Mink" (Republic, 1962, $35), letterbox version of comedy starring Cary Grant and Doris Day.

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