MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Sometimes I wonder just what’s going on at Disney these days. Why are they spending so much time with live action remakes of classic animated films? (This year we will see Aladdin and Dumbo, with Mulan and The Sword in the Stone in preproduction for the near future.) Mary Poppins Returns was promoted as a new movie and not a remake, with a great musical director and an A-List cast assembled (including Hamilton’s Miranda in his first major film role).
Granted, P. L. Travers wrote five Mary Poppins books (plus a cookbook with stories) so there’s a rich treasure trove of source material. So why does this movie slavishly copy virtually every scene and every beat of 1964’s Mary Poppins (including similar musical numbers? This time, instead of flying into London to teach Jane and Michael Banks practical manners (while also saving Mr. George Banks), Mary (Blunt) arrives at the home of the adult Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw) – now a recent widower with three children – assisted by the adult Jane (Emily Mortimer). This time Mary Poppins will help everyone deal with their grief while managing the austerity brought on by an economic downturn. Things are off to a peculiar start, indeed, with the family still keeping a full-time cook on staff and Michael only working a part-time job as a bank teller.
Yes, it’s a gloomier world and the Banks will possibly lose their house to predatory bankers, but that doesn’t stop Mary from taking the kids on great adventures, assisted by plucky lamplighter Jack (Miranda). Instead of jumping into a chalk drawing for a jolly holiday, the gang goes down a bathtub drain for a swim and then into a china bowl to visit the Royal Doulton Music Hall. In place of Uncle Albert whose laughter causes him to float in the air, we visit Cousin Topsy (Meryl Streep) who lives in an upside-down house! If you can’t get chimney sweeps to step in time, how about rounding up the “leeries” (slang for lamplighters) to trip the light fantastic with BMX bike riding and crazy new dance moves?
Because the cast is so good and fully committed to the material I found myself alternately bored and occasionally entertained in spite of my objections.
Obviously, dishing up the same familiar meal over and over again is a tried and true way to make money at the box office (as the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the Star Wars franchise – both Disney brands – have demonstrated).
Here’s a suggestion: If your children have never seen Mary Poppins, I would suggest taking them to Mary Poppins Returns first and then suggesting that they follow that movie by watching the vastly superior prequel when Jane and Michael were little kids. Why, it would be supercalifragiwhatsitupsidaisyumlicious! (Who could forget that word?)
P.S. The film nerd in me needs to point out that there is a plot point late in the movie that is lifted from the 1931 Our Gang comedy “Fly My Kite”. Those little rascals were on to something!
Halo and Pitchfork Rating:
Three halos: A sweet semi-remake of a great film, practically identical in every way.
One pitchfork: A deceitful businessman.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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