15 votes

Mary Poppins Returns: some thoughts

I have just watched ‘Mary Poppins Returns’, after yesterday watching the original ‘Mary Poppins’ for the first time. I have not, to my knowledge, ever watched ‘Mary Poppins’ in full before now. I’ve caught snippets of it on weekend television, but I’ve never seen it from start to finish. Well, with our new Disney+ streaming subscription, I’ve finally seen ‘Mary Poppins’ for the first time yesterday, and followed it up by watching ‘Mary Poppins Returns’ today.

‘Mary Poppins Returns’ is a sequel in name only. It’s basically a remake of the original. It’s as if the director had a checklist of everything ‘Mary Poppins’ contained, and just checked them off in this sequel:

  • Mary Poppins herself. Check.

  • A dirty working-class friend with a heart of gold. Check.

  • Children who didn’t know how to have fun. Check.

  • A father who needed to rediscover his children and his own childish joy. Check.

  • A woman who’s working for a progressive cause. Check.

  • Bank seen as a negative institution. Check.

  • Quirky relative of Mary Poppins who gives the children a different point of view. Check.

  • Animated sequence. Check.

Actually, I’m surprised that there is an animated sequence in the sequel, given how much P.L. Travers reportedly hated the animation in the original. (Strangely, I’ve seen ‘Saving Mr Banks’ a couple of times, and even watched a documentary about Ms Travers somewhere along the way.) But I suppose she’s dead now, so her input is limited to just turning in her grave.

It even gets more detailed than that. Individual musical numbers have been mapped from one movie to another:

  • Vaudeville-style song & dance number within the animated sequence, with the main characters performing alongside cartoon animals. Check.

  • Big dance number featuring the aforementioned working-class friend and his colleagues. Check. The names even have a metaphorical resonance: “Step in Time” becomes “Trip a Little Light Fantastic”.

  • Uplifting song at the end of the movie. Check. But instead of being about a child’s toy that flies in the sky (kite), let’s make it about a different child’s toy that flies in the sky (balloon).

It’s a shame that Julie Andrews can’t sing any more. It would have been lov-er-ly (ha!) to see her in the cameo role that Angela Lansbury had. Not that I have anything against Ms Lansbury: far from it! But Dick Van Dyke got a small role, and it would have been nice to see Ms Andrews pop up as well. A little on-screen moment between her and Emily Blunt would have been sweet.

There was one thing that the director left off his checklist, though: singable songs. While everyone knows “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” and can sing it at the drop of a hat, noone is going to be singing “A Cover is not the Book”, as fun as it was. “A Spoonful of Sugar” is fun and memorable, while “Can You Imagine That” is fun and forgettable.

This is not to derogate the performances. There were no weak links in this chain. Emily Blunt was spot-on as Mary Poppins. Lin-Manuel Miranda was technically great as Jack the lamplighter (and he certainly did a better Cockney accent than Dick Van Dyke – which admittedly isn’t hard). Miranda lacked a little heart, but is a great singer and dancer. The rest of the cast were also good. Not a sour note among them. They were just let down by a weak script and poor songs.

The new Mary Poppins movie is a watered-down copy of the original – and the original wasn’t the best movie in the world to start with! I love me a good musical. I have a whole shelf full of musicals on disc, along with assorted soundtracks. I can quite happily spend an afternoon with ‘The Wizard of Oz’ or ‘Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory’ or the family-friendly ‘My Fair Lady’. But ‘Mary Poppins’ was too bland for me. And its sequel/remake was even blander.

4 comments

  1. [2]
    Death
    Link
    I think you're seeing something observers of Disney have been saying for a while, and something YouTuber Lindsay Ellis touched upon in her own video on the subject of Disney, Mary Poppins, and...

    The new Mary Poppins movie is a watered-down copy of the original – and the original wasn’t the best movie in the world to start with! I love me a good musical. I have a whole shelf full of musicals on disc, along with assorted soundtracks. I can quite happily spend an afternoon with ‘The Wizard of Oz’ or ‘Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory’ or the family-friendly ‘My Fair Lady’. But ‘Mary Poppins’ was too bland for me. And its sequel/remake was even blander.

    I think you're seeing something observers of Disney have been saying for a while, and something YouTuber Lindsay Ellis touched upon in her own video on the subject of Disney, Mary Poppins, and Saving Mr. Banks: Mary Poppins was a passion project for Walt Disney, something he wanted to make himself. And while he most definitely knew it would make him a good return it doesn't seem that safe of an investment for him at the time. Current Disney CEO Bob Iger, on the other hand, invests safely, incredibly safely even. And so Mary Poppins isn't allowed to be anything other than a repeat of a previous success, this limits it's inherent potential to be an artful piece but it's a much safer insurance of at least some ROI due to nostalgia.

    3 votes
    1. Algernon_Asimov
      Link Parent
      I figured the remake was cashing in on nostalgia for the original. Most sequels/remakes are cashing in on nostalgia in some way. They're safer bets than original movies, because the producers...

      I figured the remake was cashing in on nostalgia for the original. Most sequels/remakes are cashing in on nostalgia in some way. They're safer bets than original movies, because the producers already know audiences like the sequels'/remakes' predecessors, so they're guaranteed to see the sequel/remake.

      But this sequel was such a blatant copy of the original. It didn't deviate one iota from the winning formula of its predecessor.

      It's ironic, I suppose. People complain if a sequel is too different from its predecessor, because they want to see more like what they already saw. But they also complain is too similar to its predecessor, because they don't want to see the same thing again. It's a devil of a tightrope for producers to walk!

      2 votes
  2. [2]
    Akir
    Link
    That's basically what I thought as well. It's a type of movie that I like to describe as "stuff happens". It's basically the same as Waterworld or (from what I've heard at least) Cats. It's filled...

    That's basically what I thought as well. It's a type of movie that I like to describe as "stuff happens". It's basically the same as Waterworld or (from what I've heard at least) Cats. It's filled with nice set pieces and spectacle and they focus almost entirely on it to the detriment of everything else. The characters are so shallow that they're practically transparent and the plot is so by-the-numbers that it actually removes your suspension of disbelief; the characters are acting like they have just lost all hope of winning whatever the central conflict is, but it's so formulaic that you can't imagine why they are even bothering to pretend.

    You know, I realize it's somewhat ironic that this movie exists. Disney has spent a lot of time building movie properties based on their theme park rides, but this movie actually far surpasses all of those attempts at recreating the experience. It's a fun experience but doesn't actually have any deeper meaning to take home and you won't learn anything new by watching it again.

    3 votes
    1. Algernon_Asimov
      Link Parent
      Yep. The plot in this movie was quite thin. It was basically a device to, as you say, link together some set pieces. As the audience, we know the good guys will win out and the bad guy will lose....

      Yep. The plot in this movie was quite thin. It was basically a device to, as you say, link together some set pieces. As the audience, we know the good guys will win out and the bad guy will lose. The solution to the puzzle was telegraphed quite early in the movie. It was just a matter of waiting for the characters to notice what was almost literally right in front of their eyes.

      Movies like this are about the individual moments rather than the overall journey. You're supposed to enjoy the musical pieces, the dance numbers, and the fancy animated scenes. Unfortunately, that puts a lot of weight on these aspects of the movies to be better than usual. And they mostly weren't. They were... nice... but not spectacular.

      2 votes