As they walked out of the theatre, Hazel was still humming the repetitive melody to “Trip A Little Light Fantastic,” her feet tapping along like the dancers in the film. Her wide grin was a contrast to the more stoic, contemplative look her older sister held as they returned to the parking lot.
“What did you think of the movie, Hazel?” Gwen prompted.
“I loved it!” Hazel shouted. Gwen put a finger to her lips, and Hazel’s head dropped slightly. “Oops,” she whispered. “Sorry.”
“It’s all right.” In her own mind, Gwen was still deciding whether or not she liked the film – almost a straight retelling of the original Mary Poppins, with one-to-one matches for all of the famous songs and scenes. “Did you like Lin-Manuel Miranda?”
“Yes, he was good. He was funny,” Hazel answered. “Can I ride on the back of a bicycle like they do?”
“Absolutely not,” Gwen chided. “Very dangerous, even with magic.”
“I liked the part with the animated animals, too,” Hazel added. “Oh, and the part with the guy at the bank –– he looks like the guy from the first movie!”
“It actually is the same guy from the first movie!” Gwen explained. “Dick Van Dyke.”
Hazel gasped. “Wow,” she said. “He must be very old.”
“Well, in the first movie, he was wearing makeup to make him look old,” Gwen said. “Now, fifty years later, he’s actually old.”
“Wow,” Hazel repeated. “Why didn’t they use the same Mary Poppins?”
“It’s not the same Mary Poppins, right?”
“No, no, it’s a different actress,” Gwen said. “Julie Andrews is also older now. It’s been a very long time since the first Mary Poppins came out.”
“Oh, and I liked –– I like the part with the lamps and they’re dancing, and the bikes come out…that was cool.”
“Sure,” Gwen said, her confusion over the inclusion of BMX bikes notwithstanding.
“I liked it a lot,” Hazel concluded. “Can we go home and watch the other one next?”
“Maybe tomorrow, you have to get to bed.”
Hazel groaned, but moments later was back to humming “The Cover Is Not The Book.”
Gwen recalled the number, set within the 2D-animated world of a china bowl –– an obvious parallel to the horse races of “Jolly Holiday.” She reflected back on how she felt watching the scene, which burst with energy and color and culminated in a frantic carriage chase.
And yet, something had nagged at her. Not consistently, as there were moments when the film did sweep her away once again. But there were moments –– Colin Firth sneering at the Bankses behind closed doors, or Michael Banks breaking down in front of his children – where Gwen’s heard had sunk lower than usual. What was it about the film that had held her not close, but at arm’s length?
– – – – –
“No, the BMX scene was stupid, I agree.”
“I though it was cool!” Dania pressed. “Okay, it’s not perfectly in time period, but neither is Lin-Manuel Miranda rapping during the music hall number.”
“That’s barely rapping, it’s just a patter song,” Gwen clarified.
“Ehh, it’s kind of a rap song,” Eleanor said. “I doubt they’ve have included it if it was a different actor.”
“Besides,” Dania added, “the whole of ‘Trip A Little Light Fantastic’ is basically just “Step In Time,’ they have to do something to make it distinct. Otherwise it’s just the first movie again.”
“Well,” Gwen began, but Eleanor butted in.
“‘Well, it basically is the first movie again,'” she said. “Yes, Gwen, I’m very aware. It’s the ‘Force Awakens’ of sequels.”
“I mean, if they did anything crazy different, people would be angry about all the things they changed,” Dania said. “They’d be like, ‘Mary Poppins doesn’t go to the moon, what’s up with this movie?'”
“Mary Poppins can go to the moon if she damn well pleases, Dania,” Eleanor said.
“I understand what you mean, though,” Gwen said. “It’s the Catch-22 of these long-distant remakes. You have to stay close enough to the source material that it feels like the first one, but if you don’t make any changes it feel like it’s only a rehash.”
“And which one is this?” Eleanor asked.
“Oh, definitely too close to the original,” Gwen said. “It’s all the same scenes!”
“It’s not exactly the same,” Dania said. “There’s a third kid.”
“Is there, though?” Eleanor asked. “Because I’m pretty sure you could give all of the older kid’s dialogue to the girl and do the movie with two kids and it would still work out.”
“Okay, but it’s basically the same,” Dania said. “The Banks family needs a nanny, Mary shows up, and as she helps the kids ––”
“Hold up,” Gwen said. “Do they need a nanny?”
“Well, considering the kitchen incident that starts the movie, probably.”
“In the sense that they’re expecting one, though,” Gwen clarified. “In the first movie, Mary shows up in answer to the advertisement that Jane and Michael write. In this one, she just sort of shows up because things are bad.”
“Because she shows up to take care of struggling families,” Dania said. “That’s her whole thing.”
“No, she shows up in the first movie to take care of the children,” Gwen said. “That’s her purpose. In this one, all of the subtext in the first movie about the Banks family falling apart is…well, it’s subtext. The children don’t know that things are wrong.”
“I’m not a huge fan of –– okay, don’t take this as me agreeing with you, Gwen –– but I don’t love Michael Banks as the father as much as I like George Banks in the first movie.”
“Oh, he’s fine,” Dania said. “He’s sadder and more sympathetic. I think he’s perfect.”
“But that’s the problem,” Eleanor said. “He knows that he’s wrong already. George Banks had to fundamentally start caring for his family more, and that was the issue that Mary Poppins solved. Michael already cares for his children plenty –– but the house is getting repossessed. Like, the climax of the movie isn’t whether George Banks will choose his family over his job, it’s whether or not Michael can get the McGuffin kite object to the bank before the Evil Bank Man takes the house.”
“I hate Colin Firth in this movie,” Gwen said. “Meaning I hate the character. Colin Firth actually does a great job of switching between nice and mean in the movie. But the role is a dumb addition to Mary Poppins.”
“Why?” Dania asked. “It’s thematic. It ties into the whole “cover is not the book” idea. Doesn’t he literally play the wolf character?”
“I do like the dual performance there,” Eleanor said. “Plus you get Kobna Holdbrook-Smith as the nice banker man.”
“That’s just it, right?” Gwen pointed out. “The original Mary Poppins doesn’t have a villain. The bank doesn’t tear the Banks family apart, it’s George Banks’s obsession with his job that does that.”
“This is flatter,” Eleanor said. “It’s easier to digest.”
“And it’s not as mature,” Gwen agreed.
“Well, it’s a children’s movie,” Dania shrugged. “You can’t get too dark with things.”
“Oh, and Michael breaking down in front of his children over his dead wife isn’t too dark?” Eleanor said. “The tone is all over the place.”
“Do you both remember Saving Mr. Banks?” Gwen asked.
“The Tom Hanks movie?”
“Emma Thompson was in it too, don’t disrespect.”
“This is the one about making the first Mary Poppins, right?”
“Yes, from a few years ago,” Gwen said. “Remember that line where Walt-Tom Disney-Hanks is talking with Emma Thompson and literally says the words, ‘It’s not the kids she comes to save, it’s your father?’ and it’s basically the entire plot of the movie in one sentence?”
“Yeah, I remember,” Eleanor said. “That’s also the movie where they imply that P.L. Travers’ entire hesitation to selling the Mary Poppins rights has a one-to-one correlation to some troubled childhood, and it sucks.”
“There’s so much discussion in that movie about what Mary Poppins means, and the complexity of the message, and how she’s here to save the family more than the children,” Gwen said.
“But Walt doesn’t get that until the end,” Dania said. “I remember that part. And she hates the dancing penguins.”
“Well, there’s my argument,” Gwen said. “You watch the first Mary Poppins and it’s only at the end when you realize why Mary actually came. You go into Mary Poppins Returns and she’s outright saying it within her first scene. ‘I’m here to care for the Banks children…and you too.'”
“But she wasn’t there just to take care of the Banks children in the first movie.”
“But on the surface she was,” Gwen said.
“The thing I don’t like about Saving Mr. Banks is that all of the discussion with Travers’ backstory is so directly tied to Mary Poppins,” Eleanor said. “Like, did the nanny who comes to care for the dying father really need to literally say ‘spit-spot,’ or pull a wild amount of things out of her carpetbag? It just throws in references to the Mary Poppins to make the connection between Travers and her story really obvious. Like, did she tell all of those details to Walt so they could be replicated in the movie?”
“Again, there’s no subtext,” Gwen said. “All the discussions between the writers that appear in Saving Mr. Banks center on the idea of what the story really means, and how it’s hidden within the plot Travers came up with. No one in Mary Poppins directly references how dire the stakes are, and that attempt to hide the pain the family is going through adds layers and complexity to the action. But in the movie about the making of Mary Poppins, those layers aren’t there. The stakes, for both Travers and Disney, are shown directly on screen.”
“And you could argue that Mary Poppins Returns does the same thing, showing Michael actually being sad from the beginning, as opposed to George Banks’ slow realization of how unhappy his family is.”
“I don’t understand why Disney is turning away from subtext as a company,” Gwen said. “All of these remakes and sequels and rehashing of older properties…look at the live-action Beauty And The Beast and all of its directly-stated morals and messages. Whatever happened to implying things?”
“Well, careful not to cut yourself on that edgy statement, Gwen,” Dania said. “I don’t think a few remakes are any indication that Disney can’t make good movies anymore.”
“Maybe not, but I agree that some of the complexity is gone,” Eleanor said. “Adding a bank-based villain, that ludicrous plot contrivance about the tuppence from the first movie…but then again, Disney movies tend to run on emotion more than any other plot fuel. I don’t think all of this makes Mary Poppins Returns, or Saving Mr. Banks, for that matter, a bad movie.”
“Just a less intellectually stimulating one,” Gwen said.
– – – – –
“And then there was a part where it was all animated, and they were dancing around, and it was super cool, and then there were bikes and these lamps, and there was a woman who was all upside-down, and everyone was flying away on balloons at the end, and…”
Gwen listened intently as Hazel breathlessly recounted the plot to their father, back at home for the holidays. She had warmed to the film slightly since her first viewing with Eleanor and Dania, and Hazel’s jaunt through the film’s major moments helped to distract her from what she had disliked.
“And then, when they’re in the air with the balloons,” Hazel added, “the Bank Guy comes up and gets a balloon, and he tries to fly, but he can’t, because he’s the bad guy.”
Ah, Gwen realized. There it is. The original Mary Poppins ended with the head of the bank laughing over a simple joke, and beginning to float up into the air. In Mary Poppins Returns, the head of the bank is flightless, land-locked for his inability to dream. Only the pure can fly.
Image Source: CNet