It’s been over five decades since Walt Disney brought author P.L. Travers’ practically perfect nanny to life in his magnum opus, Mary Poppins. Now, the company that bears his name continues the story in an all-new film fantasy, Mary Poppins Returns.
I’m a very big fan of the original film. In a lot of ways, Mary Poppins Returns does indeed capture the spirit of the first film, but it’s a pretty mediocre sequel. I could imagine it was very difficult to follow something as cinematically perfect as Mary Poppins. So I will give director Rob Marshall and his crew points for even attempting such a lofty goal.
While Mary Poppins Returns‘ narrative definitely has its share of problems, there is a very strong thematic spine underneath it – something that every person in this word deals with at some point in their lives.
In 1964, Walt Disney was at the pinnacle of his power in Hollywood. He had proven time and time again to be a master storyteller by producing a bevy of cherished, classic films over four decades. And that year, he brought the world his masterpiece, Mary Poppins.
Mary Poppins is the most “Disney” Disney movie that was ever made under Walt’s supervision. A fine example of pure cinema, the film exudes charm and sophistication at every turn while remaining thoroughly entertaining. Walt and his team of expert storytellers and technical wizards pulled out all the stops to make Mary Poppins truly timeless and memorable.
With the release of the film’s sequel, Mary Poppins Returns, I wanted to take a deeper look at this classic film. Just like every good movie made by Walt Disney, Mary Poppins has a strong thematic center. What makes the film relatable is that strong core, and how it revolves around not the titular magical nanny, but another character in need of learning a valuable lesson about family.
OFF WE GO! SPOILERS AHEAD
Race is at the forefront of American culture today. Despite decades of obvious societal evolution, many Americans still believe the country is in the throes of institutional discrimination or is at least headed in that direction again, which is really quite absurd and sad. Even people my age, who are far too young to have been actual victims of Jim Crow laws, feel this way.
Hollywood has reacted to this disturbing trend with many racially-based “message” films and television shows over the last few years. Not that I blame them; it’s a good business strategy to tap into the current cultural zeitgeist, no matter what the topic is.
Some of these films have done a very good job of illustrating the evils of the past and how we can work past them (Hidden Figures, Selma). Others are designed to reopen old wounds, prevent the healing of decades-long resentments, and/or signal smug, selfish, and unearned moral superiority (Detroit, Get Out, Dear White People). The former is helpful in the conversation; the latter is not.
The new film Green Book is firmly in the former category. It’s an absolutely wonderful bit of storytelling, one that is definitely on my list of the top 10 films of 2018. The film’s sincerity and good humor leap off the screen and fill one’s heart with hope, giving some much-needed perspective about just how far we’ve come as a society in the last 50 years as well as a sobering dose of positivity for the future.
This story, about a refined black piano virtuoso and the friendship he forged with his uncouth white driver in 1962, captured what is truly necessary to change a person’s heart and mind away from terrible thinking – and it isn’t through violence or the passage of draconian laws. It is truly the way of Christ.