Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Movie Review: Mary Poppins Returns

I mean, it's delightful.

What else would you expect? Right or wrong, Disney's mastered the art of planting, aging, and harvesting nostalgia. They pulled it off with Christopher Robin, and they're doing it again with Mary Poppins Returns. Your enjoyment is of course dependent on some familiarity with the original and your ability to either miss or not care that your emotions are being manipulated.

If you push back on the movie's premise, you're not going to have as good a time. And, frankly, I think that's reasonable. I pushed back a bit on Christopher Robin, because it really grated on me that Disney was essentially laying claim to the soul of a real human being who had a troubled relationship with a series of books his father wrote him into. Mary Poppins Returns has a questionable background of its own: this is a property the studio wrestled away from its creator. Maybe that should bother me more, but... honestly, it didn't.

Technically, these movies are marvels. Mary Poppins Returns recreates the feel of the original beautifully while using modern effects to create a brighter, more vivid world than was possible in the 60's. Music from that movie lives on, woven into the score. Meanwhile, there's a lineup of new songs that fit right in.

The cast is wonderful - if Disney wants to make more of these, I'm willing to watch Emily Blunt deadpan Poppins' lines forever. And of course Lin-Manuel Miranda is fantastic in this. On a meta level, I'm not sure this movie could exist without a genuine, recognizable musical super-star, and until Miranda we hadn't had one in decades.

The story here is, of course, fairly light, but that's by design. If you're feeling cynical, you can (accurately) dismiss the ending as a bit of Deus Ex Machina, but then you'd also have to contend with the fact the premise is more or less that of a goddess descending from the sky to help out a family. These movies are less driven by suspense than by the joy of watching scheming bankers unaware they're actually contending with someone at a power level that would make Thanos quake.

My real complaints have less to do with stuff like that and more to do with a handful of scenes that get a little too cute for their own good. There's a sequence with Meryl Streep that didn't work for me, then a number at the end that really felt like it hinged on an actor making a cameo who *didn't* show up. The replacement they went with... okay: I get it, and it's the only other person in the world who'd make any sense in that role, but the connection is a little too tenuous for the weight given to that scene and those lines.

In short, it's a charming, beautiful continuation of the original film. If that sounds good to you, you'll probably be as happy with the finished product as I was. But if you've never really cared for the classic, this isn't going to convert you.

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