Walt Disney Studios score a major hit almost 55 years ago when it premiered its musical, Mary Poppins. Based on the novel by author P.L. Travers, and starring actress Julie Andrews (The Sound of Music, Victor Victoria, The Princess Diaries), the movie went on to be one of the studio’s most respected productions. Now 54 years after its debut, Disney has revisited Travers’ beloved nanny with a big-screen adaptation of another in that series of books, Mary Poppins Returns. The movie is an entertaining watch, but is not the runaway success that the studio would have people believe it to be. One of the positives that keeps the movie afloat is its musical numbers. This will be discussed shortly. For all that the musical numbers do for the movie, its script does just as much to detract from its presentation. It will be discussed a little later. The sets and animation work with the musical numbers to make up a little more for the script problems. Each item is important in its own way to the whole of Mary Poppins Returns. All things considered, they make the movie a work that is worth at least one watch, but few, if any, *ahem* returns.
Walt Disney Studios’ new Mary Poppins sequel, Mary Poppins Returns is a respectable new offering from the studio, but is not the best work that it could have been. That is not to say that it is a total loss. It does have some positives, one of which being its collective musical numbers. The musical numbers throw back to the movie’s predecessor, stylistically speaking. They are just as bombastic as that movie’s numbers, with the full choruses, choreographed dancing and Broadway style sets. Given, some of the musical numbers, such as the one in which the men sing about tripping a little light fantastic is one of the numbers that probably could have been cut, in hindsight. Also, considering the plot hole created in the script (which will be discussed a little later) by Mary’s visit to her cousin, that number likely could have been cut, too. The two numbers together, could have saved the movie at least five minutes if not more. They could have been saved as bonus features for the movie’s home release. That aside, the fact that the songs, their choreography and sets sound and look how they do, they will appeal to fans of Disney’s days gone by and of Broadway musicals in general. As a matter of fact, one could even argue that the sense that they collectively create in audiences’ minds makes it easy to see them being translated to a live stage setting. That appeal is in itself reason for audiences to see this movie at least once. It is not the movie’s only positive. The other positive will be addressed shortly. Before that positive is addressed, one must address the movie’s clear negative, its script.
The movie’s script does just as much to detract from Mary Poppins Returns’ presentation as its positives do to make it worth the watch. The script is based very loosely on Travers’ 1935 novel Mary Poppins Comes Back. The initial scene in which Mary makes her first appearance is true to the source material, but so much other material was changed. For instance, Mary declares in the movie that she will leave “when the door opens.” That is different from the novel, in which she states that she will leave when ‘the little chain to her locket breaks.” Adding to the issues with the script is that for all intents and purposes, this movie’s script is a rehashing of the first movie. Once again, the banks family is in turmoil as it deal with the city’s bank. This time around, it’s Michael, all grown up, dealing with the evil bank head, and trying to save the family home from said villain. This is not the first time that a sequel has basically gone back to its predecessor for a story, either (E.g. Tron and Tron Legacy – another Disney pairing – and Blues Brothers and Blues Brothers 2000). What’s more, it certainly is not the first time that a movie’s script has centered around an innocent land owner facing off against an evil banker/landlord figure to keep his or her land. That is a plot element that goes back to the golden age of cinema, when so many Westerns saw their protagonists having to save their land from said bad guy. As if all of that is not enough, there is an unmistakable plot hole involving Mary’s cousin Topsy. While Mary and the Banks children visit Topsy in order to have the vase fixed, that story line is never re-visited (not to give away too much). Why have that element in there if it is not going to be addressed again? It’s almost as if it was included just to give justification for the studio bringing in veteran actress Meryl Streep. When one considers all of this along with the movie’s pacing issues, which can be traced at least in part to the overabundance of musical numbers, it becomes impossible to argue in support of this movie’s story. Considering this, the movie’s script does a lot to detract from the movie’s overall presentation. Luckily though, the damage that it does to the presentation is countered again, by another of the movie’s positives, its collective sets and animation.
The collective sets and animation incorporated into Mary Poppins Returns is more proof of the movie’s creative heads trying to establish a certain sense of nostalgia in audiences’ minds. The animated scenes, which take place when Mary and the Banks children jump into the China vase, look almost identical to those used in Mary Poppins. This is important to note because in an age when so much animation is clearly CG or flash, the work put into those scenes makes it next to impossible to tell if it was crafted by hand or on computer. That is a testament to the time and effort put into those scenes. That in itself is worth its share of applause.
The sets that were crafted for the movie, as previously noted, give the movie a look that makes it easy to see the movie translated to the stage. Again, kudos is in order for those behind the scenes in this case, too. From the scene with the lamp lighters singing and dancing, to the exteriors of the Banks’ home to the finale in the park, the sets look just like something that could easily be presented on stage. Even the set for Topsy’s shop, with its ability to go upside down, is something that certainly some set designer(s) can build. The positive created from this element and that of the animation combines to make them just as important to the movie’s presentation as its musical numbers. When these aesthetic elements are considered together, they make clear that while Mary Poppins Returns is hardly the return that many fans will expect, it does prove that there is at least still a place in today’s entertainment industry for musicals. Simply put, they prove that this movie is worth at least one watch, but few if any, more returns.
A lot of hype was built around Walt Disney Studios’ new Mary Poppins offering Mary Poppins Returns ahead of its theatrical release late last year. Sadly though, the movie does not entirely live up to that hype. It is not a complete loss, though. Its musical numbers – overly abundant as they are – its sets and its animation go a long way toward making the movie worth at least one watch. That is especially the case among fans of musicals and Disney’s own golden era. The movie’s script does as much to detract from the movie as its aesthetic elements, though. Keeping all of this in mind, Mary Poppins Returns is, again, worth at least one watch, but few, if any, more returns. More information on this and other titles from Walt Disney Studios is available online now at:
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