Mary Poppins had millions of children wishing they had a magical nanny to handle their chores and cure their ailments. Julie Andrews brought the character to life on the big screen and landed an Academy Award for her enchanting performance. Music, magic, and adventure unfolded without any CGI in the 1964 Disney movie.
To adapt the books into a film, Walt Disney and crew learned to combine the wizardly elements of the story with the mundane. Wondering how they pulled off Mary Poppins’ never-ending bag of things? Andrews once revealed the secret behind her character’s curiously large purse.
Mary Poppins’ magical bag used a rigged set-up for filming
Mary Poppins had two accessories that added to her aura of whimsy. Her handy umbrella aided her flying exploits, and her big carpet bag contained anything one needed. To the Banks children — and the audience — that bag fed the imagination. She pulled out a lamp, two mirrors, a hat stand, and other goodies.
Julie Andrews detailed the process that made the scene look so sophisticated in her book, Home Work: A Memoir of My Hollywood Years. Remember, it was 1964.
“As for the carpetbag, and my pulling all those impossibly sized items out of it — the standing lamp, mirror, etc. — there was a hole in the table and in the bottom of the bag,” she wrote.
“All the items were actually under the table, so that I could just reach through and grab them. After the scene was shot, the rectangular space under the table was spliced out and replaced with a separate piece of film featuring Michael crouching down to see where everything was coming from.”
Clever, right? Watch Jane and Michael’s legs in the movie, and one may be able to catch where they swapped out the film to make it so realistic.
Oh, what about that ‘Spoonful of Sugar’ clean-up scene?
Andrews also dished on the sequence where Mary Poppins straightened up the kids’ room — with their help. A finger snap here or there and things organized themselves everywhere as they sang “A Spoonful of Sugar.” No high tech visual effects were available back then, but ingenuity made all the tasks seem doable. Take that, Thanos.
“For the tidying of the nursery sequence, in which it appears that clothing is folding itself and, along with the toys, jumping into open drawers and cupboards which then shut themselves — the Disney magicians simply filmed everything in reverse,” Andrews wrote.
“Drawers were pushed open from the back and folded clothing expelled out of them … and the footage was later run backwards.” And the little robin in the scene with her was a mechanical one attached to wire.
Where to re-watch ‘Mary Poppins’
Picking up on all the cool camera work in the original Mary Poppins may take a bit of savviness, but you can try your hand by streaming it on Disney+. Follow it up with a dose of 2018’s Mary Poppins Returns starring Emily Blunt. Both earned rave reviews for reminding children and adults about keeping a sense of wonder.