I was reminded of a blog I wrote the other night when my daughter and I watched My Fair Lady. Both films came out in 1964, both were nominated for Best Picture (My Fair Lady won) Julie Andrews played Eliza Doolittle on Broadway but was passed over for Audrey Hepburn, but would then win Best Actress for Mary Poppins. My Fair Lady is #91 on AFI's list of 100 best films of all time, and Mary Poppins is not on the list. However Mary Poppins is higher on AFI's list of top 100 Musicals of all time, #6 vs. #8.
I came up with 5 reasons why Mary Poppins, not My Fair Lady, was the top Musical of 1964.
5. Julie Andrews > Audrey Hepburn. Taking nothing away from Hepburn, who was one of the biggest stars of classic cinema, but she didn't even sing in My Fair Lady. Andrews, on the other hand, sang so well that Walt Disney couldn't listen to Feed the Birds without being moved to tears. She also portrayed the character of Mary Poppins with grace, wit and sternness that made her a much deeper character.
4. George Banks > Henry Higgins. George Banks' character arc is much more believable and much more emotional. Henry Higgins is a jerk for much of them movie, and by the time he has his epiphany at the end, couldn't care less about him.
3. My Fair Lady may have won Best Picture, but Mary Poppins won Best Song (Chim-Chim-Cheree) as well as Best Music. Plus, the songs in Mary Poppins do a much better job of progressing the story. The Reprise of Spoonful of Sugar is what leads George to have his epiphany, and it's one of the most emotional moments in the film. My Fair Lady has The Rain in Spain, I Could Have Danced All Night and With a Little Bit of Luck, but Mary Poppins has Spoon Full of Sugar, Feed the Birds, Chim-Chim_Cheree, and Supercalifragilisticexpialodocious. In terms of iconic songs, Mary Poppins wins easily.
2. The Story. If we're talking story, Mary Poppins has a much more compelling story about a man who discovers that the way he's been taking care of his family is causing him to lose his family. It's a tighter narrative that has a better structure and is stronger thematically.
1. Entertainment Value. Piggy backing on the previous point, Mary Poppins is just more entertaining. Coming in at a whopping 170 minutes, My Fair Lady is too long and has long stretches where nothing is going on and it gets boring. Mary Poppins, while still long, comes in at just over 130 minutes, and has a more streamlined narrative that keeps the story moving. Combine that with the superior visual effects, the animation and the humor, and Mary Poppins is the better film.