Mary Poppins (1964)

“I didn’t really like it, but I did like it,” said our five year-old critic about Disney’s quite long, but phenomenally entertaining Mary Poppins. It did need a pause for us to explain nannies and suffragettes, and we took an intermission after eighty of its hundred and forty minutes, but he laughed with the slapstick and the dancing and the animation.

For those of you who don’t know much about this movie, it’s about a mysterious and magical nanny who comes to the Banks home to uproot a few things and arrange events so that Mr. Banks will be a more attentive father to his kids. Mom and Dad are played by Glynis Johns and David Tomlinson – add him to the very long list of actors who would have / should have made a better Lord Ffogg opposite Johns in Batman a couple of years later – and the kids by Karen Dotrice and Matthew Garber.

Bringing magic into the family’s life, there’s Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke, but you mustn’t overlook Ed Wynn as a strange Uncle Arthur, who has a contagious habit of levitating when he laughs. Andrews is not merely practically perfect in every way, but perfect, period. Van Dyke is an absolute joy to watch, if not to listen to. You make allowances for this being a movie with only a half hour of plot because the music and the dancing are so entertaining, but there’s really no allowances for his terrible accent. But you can forgive him because “Step in Time” is just so amazing. In much the same way that the swordfight in The Princess Bride is as good a swordfight as you’ll ever see in a movie, this is the definitive song and dance in a movie for me, even more than the iconic Singing in the Rain. It could go on another five minutes, and only the churlish would object.

Honestly, a hundred and forty minutes and the only thing that takes me out of this movie is Van Dyke’s accent. It’s incredibly fun, supremely witty, packed with great performances, and sports at least four songs that darn near everybody in the western world knows. Our son may not have really liked it, but I did.

For some reason, my laptop adamantly refused to play this DVD for me to get some captures, so the sole image here comes from Cinema Blend.

The Gnome-Mobile (1967)

Haven’t you got a gnome to go to?

Every so often in the sixties and seventies, Disney released a film that really captured the precise year it was made just perfectly. Then there’s The Gnome-Mobile, which could have been made anytime in a span of about three decades. About the only way to nail this down to 1967 is the age of the actors. It’s just a goofy, timeless comedy that our five year-old absolutely loved. They just killed with this one. It’s got a song that he loved, a car chase, a boy chase – about which more in a second – and a bad guy who had him growling like he hasn’t done since a few particularly evil Batman villains had him furious.

The film stars Walter Brennan in two roles, as a kind-hearted magnate named Mulroney, and as Knobby, a 900 year-old gnome who is losing his will to live as his grandson Jasper cannot find a maiden gnome to marry. Or any other gnomes, for that matter. They appear to be the last of their kind. Mulroney, who is traveling from San Francisco to Seattle with his grandchildren in a beautiful old Rolls-Royce, offers to help them find a new forest and the possibility of meeting other gnomes.

Deeply ridiculous complications await them. The gnomes are kidnapped by the owner of a freak show, and Mulroney’s trusted chief of security tries to have his boss committed to a conveniently close asylum after all this talk of gnomes. The children are resourceful to a degree unseen outside Hollywood. They’re played by Matthew Garber and Karen Dotrice, making their third joint appearance in a Disney film together.

If I hadn’t watched this film with my son, I doubt I’d have enjoyed it very much. But he went wild for it. He loved the shenanigans the kids got into, and all the mischief. He hid his eyes, he sang along, and he laughed uproariously throughout it. Other than the Herbie films, I’m not sure he’s enjoyed any Disney movie more than this. If you’ve got a five year-old, you should check this one out.

I was most surprised that he enjoyed the climax as much as he did. Of course, the gnomes do find another large group. This one is led by Ed Wynn as Rufus, in his final performance, and Jasper seems – for just a moment – to have his pick of more than a dozen attractive young maiden gnomes. He’s immediately smitten with Violet, who is shy and disliked by the other women, but Rufus informs Jasper and Knobby that they have it backward. In their world, the women pick their dates.

The chase for Jasper is very, very reminiscent of Sadie Hawkins Day in the film version of Li’l Abner, which we certainly must watch one day. Jasper desperately tries to avoid all the other cute girls in order for Violet to grab him until Rufus counts to seven. There’s lots of magical jumping and swinging from vines and using acorns as obstacles. This scene really is huge fun, and our son begged to watch it again as soon as we finished.

And does Jasper get grabbed by the right girl? Well, of course he does, dear readers, it’s a Disney film!

Incidentally, the credit below must surely be one of the weirdest I’ve ever seen in a movie.