Saturday, September 18, 2021

Movie review: Mary Poppins Returns


“The world seems to be ready for more movie musicals,” writes editor Jacob Blue in The Lance, the student newspaper at Linganore High School in Frederick, Maryland, in his review of Disney’s Mary Poppins Returns, which takes place in depression-era London and involves the Banks children, who are now grown up, trying to save their house from foreclosure.

Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt), the ultimate nanny, returns—as always, for the adults as much as the kids—and given the current state of the world, Mr Blue says this is truly the right movie for right now:

The movie’s main theme is optimism, the idea that anything is possible, even the impossible. … This is the story the world needs right now—it is truly a gift to the world. Mary Poppins Returns provides a fun heartwarming experience that will have you reaching for the tissue box. Go see it before it leaves the theaters.

He did have a few issues with the movie, though, mainly around the plot’s antagonist, bank president William Weatherall Wilkins (Colin Firth). He shifts, just a little too quickly for Mr Blue’s liking, from a façade of a compassionate individual, trying to do everything he can to help the Banks family save their home, to the evil scrooge bent on burning every document he has that would actually help them keep it.

But there are enough shining lights in the movie to save it, including the score, a tap dancing chimney sweep (92-year-old Dick Van Dyke), a balloon lady (Angela Lansbury), and the character of Topsy (Academy Award winner Meryl Streep). “Topsy is a cousin of Mary Poppins. Jack, Mary, and the Banks children visit her to restore their mother’s broken Royal Doulton bowl. Topsy’s accent itself got people in the audience laughing. The ability to make a character her own has always been one of Streep’s defining qualities as an actress,” he writes.

Not all reviewers were so impressed, though. “The strangest thing about the new movie isn’t that Mary Poppins appears from parts unknown with a talking umbrella and capacious carpetbag,” writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. “Even if you have never seen the 1964 film or read one of PL Travers’s books, the image of this floating woman—a deus ex machina who mysteriously, magically arrives in the most delightful way—still resonates in the Disney-nurtured cultural imagination. As the stern but loving parental substitute, she embodies the kind of secular savior Disney excels in. No, what’s odd here is how closely the new movie follows the original’s arc without ever capturing its bliss or tapping into its touching delicacy of feeling.”

Personally, after seeing the movie as an audience member, not as a film school graduate student, I’m mostly with Mr Blue. Although the plot was perhaps a little forced, the movie was full of joy and optimism, just like he wrote. But it’s hard to make a sequel to what was, in effect, a perfect movie musical from the 1960s, when Mary’s character was as dazzling and jaw-dropping as could be, despite plenty of coverage showing how Ms Travers hated Disney’s portrayal. Maybe that’s why Julie Andrews didn’t make a cameo appearance: Why mess with something that’s already perfect, especially something that brought such exquisite music to film?

For those who may appreciate musicals on stage rather than the big screen, Voxitatis will be publishing a complete list of high school musicals being staged this spring in high schools in Maryland and Illinois. So break a leg, restore a Royal Doulton bowl, pop a balloon, or whatever; but strike up the band and enjoy!

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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