PG and I'm really stretching to find out why. Mary Poppins Returns rides that line between live action and animation. I've stated in these analyses that the MPAA tends to make anything live action an automatic PG versus a G. There is one scary element, and that's the inclusion of the animated wolf. But this wolf is pretty tame compared to Disney villains of the past who have gotten a G rating. I think that the G rating is probably the most rare MPAA rating because this movie is remarkably mild when it comes to objectionable content. PG.
DIRECTOR: Rob Marshall
There's nothing that is more daunting than writing about a movie that is pretty darned good. I know. My problems are the worst. I just asked a student who is hanging in my room what she thought about it and she thought it wasn't very Mary Poppins-y. See, that's what my entire analysis was going to be about. I loved how this movie felt like the most natural long-delayed sequel of all time.
Sometimes I just want something positive and happy. With the wealth of kids' movies that I've looked at because of my kids, I do realize that they all feel the need to be somehow kind of edgey. There's usually a really scary villain. There has to be this downside to the whole narrative. The idea of rallying is somehow vital to all these stories. While Mary Poppins Returns has elements of those other kids' movies in it, this movie really feels more like the whimsical children's movies of yesteryear. Honestly, I have to give Rob Marshall so much credit for managing to take something that should seem very dated and make it fresh and exciting. We've owned Mary Poppins since my daughter was very young. I don't think that my wife was ever that jazzed to watch it. Immediately from seeing Mary Poppins Returns, she wanted to have another family movie night so we could watch it again. (I'm probably a bad person, but I had seen it recently enough that I did the dishes and cleaned the house.) Also, my list of to-do-reviews (I want to trademark that right now) has gotten offensively long with Oscar season. But tonally, Mary Poppins Returns is perfect. I don't think we realize how much has to go into making a tone perfect after a movie hadn't been ages since the last one in the series. Think about this. If you made a movie, completely unironically, to look like a dead style of film, who is going to see that? The closest thing that I can think of is The Artist, but that filmmaking is done tongue-in-cheek. The style of film for The Artist is a commentary on the narrative. Instead, Mary Poppins Returns is more of a method of making a movie without any sense of irony. This feels more of an appreciation for the style that the original Mary Poppins embraced. If you were being harsh, you could say that Mary Poppins Returns is copying a bit too much of the original film for the sake of nostalgia. When I watched The Force Awakens, that idea was first and foremost in my mind. But Mary Poppins Returns doesn't really pull that card. Instead, I was pretty well rapt within the narrative to ever consider that. Maybe it wasn't the narrative, but just the entire movie-going experience to even notice. I think Mary Poppins Returns has the benefit that we don't get movies like this very often. With an example like Star Wars, it was something that was a cultural icon that didn't have a lot of copycats until we were inundated by entry after entry that tried to capture the original spirit. Mary Poppins Returns has only the original film to really draw from.
But that means I have to be a little critical as well. Remember, I absolutely loved loved loved loved loved the film, but there are analogues for each element of the original film. It may actually stop Returns from being a classic in its own right. The Meryl Streep family member was just the family member who floated while laughing. Bert was just replaced by Lin-Manuel Miranda's Jack. The children are now the parents. The bank and all of the little elements are just one-for-one the original moments. Yeah, it's The Force Awakens. But you know what? I really like The Force Awakens. The big changes, however, are the children and their attitudes towards life. The original Banks children were horribly behaved and Mary Poppins used magic and whimsy to keep them in line. In this case, we have the antithesis. The Banks children are already acting like adults and need to loosen up a little bit. That's pretty minor and even I can't justify it. But what I kind of learned from watching Mary Poppins Returns and its overall success is that Mary Poppins might be more of a template than a series of narratives. Mary Poppins services singing, dancing, and magic. And that's what Mary Poppins Returns stresses more than anything else. The music and dancing are absolutely phenomenal. The movie constantly stresses the joyful nature of the music. I suppose that any musical could be about just servicing the music. But the template that Mary Poppins provides services a very specific style of music and dancing. There is always the question of diagetic v. non-diagetic elements in a film. The characters of Mary Poppins, even at their baseline, live in a whimsical world. The admiral next door with his obsession with naval tradition is absurd. But there is a line in the sand when it comes to magic and whimsy and that's what Mary Poppins, the character, provides. I can see why Rob Marshall and the screenwriters played it a little safe, using the original film to outline the new one. Mary Poppins is not really about the narrative. It is important and the themes are fine; important, even. But the character takes front and center. What the original film provides is the means for Mary Poppins to cause adorable chaos in everyone's lives.
You know what's really rad? The first question that I should have had I didn't even consider until the drive home was "How did Emily Blunt do?" It should be the first consideration. Mary Poppins, played by Julie Andrews, was simply iconic. How does someone fill that role so well. Yeah, people kind of flocked to see Lin-Manuel Miranda in a musical. That was a pretty safe bet. But Miranda has the benefit of filling the shoes of Dick Van Dyke's archetype without having to be the character of Burt. But Mary Poppins is Mary Poppins. That calls for something very specific. It's rude and fun at the same time. At no point did I consider Emily Blunt any more or less than the role. Now, how does one evaluate that? I mean, to a certain extent, Emily Blunt has to be doing an impression of Julie Andrews's performance, right? Actors always say when they fill the role of someone else's famously originated part that they are trying to find the soul of the character without doing an impression. The only exception was Donald Glover's Solo. But I think that Blunt takes it to the next level. She isn't exactly doing an impression, but there's never a moment of misunderstanding what Blunt's Poppins is about. It honestly seems like a continuation by the same person. It feels like an honest to goodness sequel and that's what I love about it. Marshall also deserves credit by having the setting build so well into this world. I'm especially thinking how well Blunt works in the animated sequence. Can I tell you how much I missed hand-drawn animation? It's oddly impressive how it worked in this one. I know it's a cheat, but I might actually like the animated sequence in Returns better than in the original, if nothing else but for the digital costuming that the characters wear. It's all very stunning. The other characters and casting jobs are fine. I'm always excited to see Ben Whishaw show up to play. But my favorite, and most bizarre choice, was David Warner to play the Admiral. I love when I see David Warner in things. It's odd to see him play old. As up-in-years as he is right now, he never seems to play geriatric. But he works in this role quite a bit. I kind of wish that we weren't spoiled about Dick Van Dyke's appearance. I honestly don't know how a 93 year old can still tap dance. If I survive to 93, I'm going to look...not great. Also, the addition of the cameo at the end confused me. She's great. She's absolutely stunning and everyone gasped when they saw her. But she wasn't in the original Mary Poppins. She's just in it because she's great. It's such a weird decision. Colin Firth, for some reason, is starting to play a bunch of bad guys. I don't know why it suits him so well. Perhaps it's the Star Wars element of being SO British. (Sorry, I keep tying Mary Poppins to Star Wars. It's not intentional.) But he does work like everyone in this film really works.
I really loved Mary Poppins Returns. I don't care that I'm a grown man of 35. I don't care that most of my hair is gone. I don't even care that it is kind of a carbon copy of the original. It's a fun and pleasant movie. I had so much fun, that I wanted to look at everyone smiling with me. We don't really get completely innocent and fun movies anymore and Mary Poppins Returns offered a genuinely vulnerable movie with great music and great dancing. That's exactly what I wanted and that's exactly what I got. It looked pretty and that made me smile. The end.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.