FlixChatter Review: Mary Poppins Returns (2018)

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Directed by Rob Marshall | Screenplay by David Magee

Starring: Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ben Whishaw, Emily Mortimer, Julie Walters

There are few things I hold dear to my inner child’s heart, one of them being Disney’s Mary Poppins (1964) starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke. Regarded as a classic, the 1964 film succeeded on so many levels. There was Julie Andrews’ groundbreaking performance as Mary Poppins and Dick Van Dyke’s Bert the chimney sweeper is equally lovable (despite his fake cockney accent). There was innovative special effects and animation. There was song and dance and my, oh my, was there! Richard and Robert Sherman’s memorable songs took the film into new heights for a musical and it had so much heart in the performances and execution (never mind P.L. Travers’ objection to the film).

So, when Disney announced a sequel, I was excited, cynical and partly in disbelief. After all, this was the tallest order of the highest magnitude. I came in with low expectations. But that changed a bit when Emily Blunt was cast as she looked ‘practically perfect’ (referencing the perfect nanny herself) in the title role. This time around, Poppins has returned to look after the Banks children 25 years after the events from the 1964 film. Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw), now an adult with 3 young children, is working at the Fidelity Fiduciary Bank like his late father before him.

Disillusioned by the loss of his wife a year prior and financial ruin and the threat of losing their family home literally knocking at their door, Michael, along with sister Jane (Emily Mortimer) search in vain to try and find a way to pay off Michael’s loan before the bank (Fidelity Fiduciary mind you) takes their house away. Whishaw is quite good in his early scenes singing A Conversation a touching lament to his late wife. Mortimer looks quite a likeness to the younger Jane Banks so that was a nice touch. However, we don’t see much of her throughout the film. She plays a labor activist, an homage to the elder Mrs. Banks who was a suffragette.

Lin-Manuel Miranda plays Jack the lamplighter in parallel to Van Dyke’s chimney sweeper. Like Bert in the first movie, he plays Mary’s counterpart on their adventures and performs the opening song and rudimentary lamplighter army sequence (Trip A Little Light Fantastic). Miranda is an accomplished performer and it shows especially with the opening (Underneath the) Lovely London Sky.

Emily Blunt is stunning as Mary Poppins. She holds her own in her rendition of the title character (even to unfair comparisons to Julie Andrews) and also does justice to the material in front of her. Her shining moment is the sweet The Place Where Lost Things Go. Blunt’s dance number with Miranda on A Cover Is Not a Book is exceptional as is the choreography and production. Her performance is noteworthy in this regard and is rewarding to watch.

Mary Poppins Returns is an entertaining, albeit a templated version of the original film down to the character and plot-lines. Its predictability isn’t a total downside as we all know things will turn out all right in the end. But it does feel a bit lacking I suspect from Disney’s too-cautious efforts to make it right. The film is well-crafted down to a T but that meticulousness and dare-I-say bombastic-ness of its musical approach may be its weakest points. Marc Shaiman’s music and Scott Wittman’s lyrics do all they can to match the vivaciousness and grandeur of Richard and Robert Sherman’s work on the first film. But they weren’t able to capture that heart and subtlety that so permeated the original Mary Poppins. There’s no heart wrenching performances like the younger Jane and Michael’s The Perfect Nanny”nor the touching nostalgia of Julie Andrew’s Feed The Birds. This may be an unfair assessment as I believe Mary Poppins Returns stands on its own. But the things that made the original a classic just isn’t quite there.

The filmmakers gathered a great cast but Meryl Streep’s turn as cousin Topsy probably should have been given to Julie Walters, another great actress who plays Ellen the Housekeeper, in a wasted tiny role. But perhaps that is due to too many greats on set. In effect, it’s a valiant effort by everyone involved from the writers, actors, and songwriters. Memorable were the performances but the songs not so much. It’s a great looking film but not the classic that it could have been.

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So what do you think of Mary Poppins Returns? Let us know what you think!

FlixChatter Review: Saving Mr. Banks

AshleyBanner
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Right away with the vintage 1960’s Disney opening, I knew this film was going to be something special. Giving a nod to the beloved classic, the film opens in the sky and adds the perfect amount of mysticism with a haunting piano melody of “Chim Chim Cher-ee,” accompanied by Collin Farrell’s recitation of, “Winds in the east, mist coming in, like something is brewing, about to begin, can’t put my finger on what lies in store, but I feel what’s to happen, all happened before.” Based on a true story about the life of P.L. Travers, known for creating and penning the beloved Mary Poppins children’s book series, and Walt Disney’s 20 year struggle to purchase the rights, this film has something to offer everyone.

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It’s 1907 and clear that Ginty, Mrs. Travers’ nickname as a child, and her father (Colin Farrell) have a very special relationship. She absolutely adores her father, and he encourages her to daydream, write and think outside the box, much to the dismay of her mother (Ruth Wilson). The family moves from an opulent home in eastern Australia to the rugged, secluded, outback of Queensland, Australia. The children see this move as an adventure, but it soon becomes evident the family is struggling to make ends meet. It’s slowly revealed that Ginty’s father is an alcoholic and is the cause of why the family had to move from means to meagerness in order to find work. While the tension between her parent’s marriage grows more palpable, Ginty continually chooses to see no wrong in her father.

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Jump to 1961 and Mrs. Travers (Emma Thompson) is now a formulaic, stubborn and priggish woman. Almost bankrupt with no current plans to write additional stories, she begrudgingly agrees to meet with Walt Disney (Tom Hanks), in L.A. for two weeks, to be part of the script writing and approval process, something he never promised any other author before, in exchange for the rights to Mary Poppins. The film travels back and forth between Mrs. Travers’ childhood in Australia, and present, amidst her battle between the writers and Walt for how the film will be presented. Mrs. Travers has strong opinions about what Disney represents and wants nothing to do with the outlandish, larger-than-life animated characters and musicals Disney was known for at the time.

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Thompson absolutely dominates in this film and plays her character to a T. She’s calculating, a perfectionist and clings to routine and archaic methods. As the film reveals more about Mrs. Travers’ past, it’s hard to believe Ginty and Mrs. Travers are the same person. One is full of such hope, optimism and creativity, while the other has grown up to be a begrudgingly cynical, cold and controlling woman. The Sherman brothers (B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman), Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford) and Walt are thrown for a loop as Mrs. Travers makes her expectations clear for what Mary Poppins will and will not become. What ensues is a hysterical game of cat and mouse. Along the way, your heart will warm when you hear the beginnings of popular tunes such as “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” “Feed the Birds” and you may even have a tear in your eye when “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” is finally presented.

I absolutely loved the relationship between Mrs. Travers and her driver, Ralph (Paul Giamatti). Every day, Ralph, embodies the bright and sunny Californian disposition and struggles to chip away at Mrs. Travers icy exterior. Only after they find common ground do you finally understand Mrs. Travers’ sometimes callous motivations. Without giving too much away, the film surprises you by dealing with very real, complex and adult content: loss, atonement and redemption.

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In all honesty, watching Saving Mr. Banks will give more background to the hows and whys of the fantastical world of Mary Poppins and will make you want to re-watch the classic. And, now that I’m older, I would argue that Mary Poppins was created to be just as much of an escape for adults as it was a whimsical world for children.

Disney gets is right with Saving Mr. Banks. I’d highly recommend adding this film to your roster of movies to see over the holidays. The acting was superb, the score beautifully accompanied the emotions and themes of the film and it gives you insight into how the magical classic was made. Be sure to stay in your seats during the credits, as you’ll get a glimpse of the real P.L. Travers.

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4 out of 5 reels

PostByAshley


Thoughts on Saving Mr. Banks? Would love to hear what you think!