Disney Magic and Why ‘Mary Poppins Returns’ is So Special

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Years ago I read an article which said at Disney “magic is made by optimizing the mundane.” I can’t think of a more perfect description of what Walt Disney tried to do in his career. For example, if we look at Disneyland: at its core is Main Street USA but it is executed in such a charming and idyllic way that it feels magical. I can’t think of any other corporate experience where I would enjoy sitting and taking in the ambiance like I do at Disneyland. What’s fascinating is I didn’t realize how much I missed this experience in Disney films until I walked out of Mary Poppins Returns. To say I was swept away in an experience of pure joy would be an understatement. It was true Disney magic and I LOVED it!

This is not to say I haven’t loved many recent Disney films. I loved Moana, and Coco was my favorite film of last year, but there’s something different about Mary Poppins Returns. It truly does optimize the mundane by taking the trials and pressures of life and reminding the audience to ‘trip a little light fantastic’ and smile a little more through your struggles. It’s one of the most joyful and effervescent experiences I’ve had at the cinemas in a long time.

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Obviously trying to make a sequel to the masterpiece that is Mary Poppins is a tall order and already I’m seeing many who are claiming this film is either too close the original or too far away. I thought they nailed the perfect balance of homage and newness. Emily Blunt is phenomenal as Mary. She gets that mixture of rigidity and whimsy just right (taking the mundane nature of child care and making it magical). She can also sing, which with recent Disney offerings like Beauty and the Beast isn’t always the case (it takes away from the escapism if the singing is bad).

Lin-Manuel Miranda is a delight as Jack, a lamplighter that could be seen as similar to Bert but he only has one job and he has a little bit of a budding relationship with now grown Jane (Emily Mortimer who is delightful). He gets the best song of the movie with ‘Trip a Little Light Fantastic’, and brings his broadway skills to all the choreography and jubilant musical sequences.

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And speaking of music, the songs are such a delight. I’ve been listening to the soundtrack for weeks and it never fails to make me smile. Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman did such a great job paying homage to the original while writing new and catchy tunes for a new generation to love. ‘The Place Where the Lost Things Go’ is sweet and touching. ‘Turning Turtle’ is a fun little number featuring Meryl Streep in her small role. ‘Nowhere to Go But Up’ gives us Angela Lansbury and the whole cast floating away in a whimsical melody. ‘Underneath the Lovely London Sky’ immediately welcomes the audience to this magical, charming take on London. I love it!

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The 2D animation sequences are also a complete delight. I don’t know what else to say about them except that I had a huge smile on my face while watching Emily, Lin and the kids dancing amongst 2D animated animals and flowers. It simply made me happy.

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There is also a different message in Mary Poppins Returns than the original film. It has certain trappings that are the same like both involving a bank and a father but the take-away is quite different. In the original Mr Banks thinks he has everything figured out. He even sings about it in the ‘The Life I Lead’. Then Mary teaches him all that stuff he had neatly arranged means nothing and doesn’t last. Without a true bond with his children his life has no meaning. Mr Banks comes to this conclusion after hearing Bert’s advice in ‘A Man Has Dreams’ and as he goes to fly a kite with his kids happiness is promised the Banks family. (Again the ordinary task of kite flying made magical).

In this story, it’s a little different. Michael (Ben Whishaw who is wonderful in the role) has experienced great loss. Unlike his father he doesn’t think he has it all figured out. In fact, he knows he doesn’t. His wife has died and the house is going to be repossessed if they can’t find a bank share certificate from his father. He is reaching his rock bottom and I can relate to this more than the confident Mr Banks of the original film. He is a man in need of rescue, and he knows it. (Again, his father had no idea he was missing out on so much). This is when Mary Poppins comes along to help Jane and Michael (and the children too!) once again. As so often is the case in life, Michael’s friends and family come to help him through his trials and find happiness again. What a beautiful message.

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But it is not a morose film. Quite the contrary. I can rarely recall a more joyous and optimistic film than Mary Poppins Returns. Sometimes life can get me down and it is Disney magic that often gives me that lift I need to try a little harder and keep dreaming. That’s what this movie reminded me of. It spoke to me of the joy of dreaming and how art can uplift even the most mundane of days.

I have not been a big fan of most of the Disney live action remakes. They feel cold and clinical and usually have bad singing. However, with Mary Poppins Returns I was transported in a triumph of music, dance, optimism and animation. I loved the costumes (Sandy Powell with another triumph), perfect production design, old fashioned score and pretty much everything else being great. I guess it could have been edited a bit more judiciously but I was fine with the length because I was enjoying myself so much. I’ve a feeling hard core Disney fans will appreciate this movie more than most, as it definitely feels like a movie Walt would have loved. It’s straight from the heart and pure Disney magic!

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5 Favorite Musicals Collab

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I’m very excited to tell you about an exciting collaboration over on my youtube channel.  My friend and fellow youtuber LondonCityTVGirl and I have done a collaboration on our five favorite musicals! It was so hard for me to narrow my list down to my top 5 and I don’t know if it really is my top 5 or just 5 that I like.  I love her 5 choices also.

My Top 5 Musicals

Simantha’s Top 5 Musicals

If you have an account it would be awesome for you to like both of our videos and subscribe to our channels.  You will enjoy both of our content I am sure of that.

What are your favorite musicals?  There were so many I could have picked and I honestly debated it for about a month but I am happy with my list. I would love to hear from you.  Thanks!

Favorite Live Action Disney

I haven’t done a Disney post in a little while so I thought I would give a list of my favorite Disney live action movies.  I am not including Muppets on this list as I am going to cover them at another time. This also does not include Marvel, Star Wars, Touchstone or other studios/franchises owned and operated by Disney.  These say Disney right on the cover!

What made me think of this is the recent announcement of Emma Watson playing Belle in live action Beauty and the Beast.  I love Watson but am not excited about this project at all. The idea of a CG Lumiere, Cogsworth and Mrs Potts makes me want to throw up. Watson seemed to give the impression in an interview they would be including the music from the animated film, which would be a first in these live action fairytales.  That could be a good thing or bad thing.

I just hate this live action trend so much.  They all are big, garish, stupid and lose any of the charm of the originals.  Hopefully with Beauty and the Beast being Howard Ashman’s masterpiece and him working on his death bed will keep them from complete sacrilege but I am not optimistic.

Just stop Disney. Stop cannibalizing yourself.  At least the cheap cash grab sequels of the 90s weren’t released in the theaters.  Shame, shame, shame!

Anyway, when Disney gets it right in live action it can be very entertaining.  Friend of the blog Mark has a live action Disney blog you should definitely check out.  We disagree on a lot but that doesn’t stop me from enjoying his reviews.

https://myliveactiondisneyproject.wordpress.com/

So here is my list…

Best Disney Live Action

Honorable Mentions- Shaggy Dog, Absent Minded Professor, Honey I Shrunk the Kids, Freaky Friday (old and new), Newsies, High School Musical, Pete’s Dragon, Darby O’ Gill and the Little People, Happiest Millionaire, Cool Runnings

12.  Swiss Family Robinson-

An admittedly hokey story but well cast and paced. I love the Home Alone style traps they construct for the pirates and the tree house.  The love triangle is less interesting but it is an entertaining family adventure along the lines of Princess Bride.

swiss family11. Tuck Everlasting

A lesser known Disney entry that I think is underrated.  Based on the book by Natalie Babbit it is the story of a girl who falls in love with a boy who can’t age. It is beautiful and sweet and isn’t afraid to give kids/teenagers something to think about instead of the same dopey romance movie we’ve seen a million times.  I love the cinematography and overall feel of the picture.  (This movie is my argument they should have cast Alexis Bidel as Bella in Twilight.  She is way more ethereal and hauntingly beautiful than Kristen Stewart…)

tuck everlasting10. Parent Trap (old and new)

The story of 2 twin sisters who find each other at camp and decide to try and get their parents back together.  Both the old and new are very charming with great lead performances by Hayley Mills and Lindsay Lohan.  The chemistry between parents on both films is palatable and convincing and as someone who hates camping I sympathize with poor Vikki (I may not show this to my kids for fear they will submarine me!) . I think it is funny and sweet.  Some worry it gives kids a false hope their parents will get back together but in my experience kids are smart enough to tell the difference between a movie and reality.  If they have such a hope it is likely a natural emotion not really having anything to do with a movie.

parent trap9. Pirates of the Caribbean Curse of the Black Pearl

The sequels have all been terrible IMO but the original was so much fun.  Great sword fighting sequences, fun story, strong cast and our first introduction to Jack Sparrow.  Wish they had figured out a way to make the follow ups good but at least we got one good movie out of it! pirates8. Old Yeller

The Disney movie that will make you cry your eyes out but in a good way.  Tears in a movie can be manipulative and I can end up resenting the movie (I’m talking to you Nicholas Sparks!) but when done right it we can cry out of a love and attachment to the character.  This is certainly true with Old Yeller and I’m not even a dog person.  What Travis has to do at the end of the movie is so well acted and gut wrenching.  Makes you want to reach through the screen and give him a hug. It’s a movie I like to watch when I’m sick and feeling sorry for myself.  Sometimes a girl just needs a good cry!

old yeller7. Bedknobs and Broomsticks

Yes it is a paler imitation of Mary Poppins but I still really like it.  Angela Lansbury is so much fun as the witch who wants to learn a spell so she can help in the war effort.  David Tomlinson is also wonderful, as usual, as the con-man selling Lansbury the course.  The kid actors are not great but the special effects hold up in a hokey kind of way.  The animated sequences are completely unnecessary to the story but a lot of fun.  It’s just a charmer.

bedknobs6. Chronicles of Narnia: Lion, Witch and Wardrobe

Kids not old enough to watch Lord of the Rings?  Narnia is a perfect option.  I love it for its biblical allegory but even if you aren’t religious it is a classic story full of magic, sacrifice, love, friendship and an amazing villain played by Tilda Swinton.  Narnia is vividly created and Aslan is just as I would have imagined when reading the books.  The kids are not as good as the Harry Potter kids but they are fine.  It’s an exciting story in a fantastical setting. It also has a nice message about pride and how Satan will work on our egos to get us to move away from what we know is right.

Narnia-8-the-chronicles-of-narnia-241414_1024_7685. Holes

When this first came out I called all my friends and family and told them to see it!  I loved it.  I still love it.  It’s so creative and clever the way it tells several stories at once with Shia Lebeouf sent to camp where they dig holes in the desert all day. What are they digging for? Well, we learn about that as the movie tells the story of an old west bi-racial romance between Kissing Kate and Trout Walker and a curse put on LeBeouf’s family.  It’s kind of a puzzle for kids as they put together the various clues in both stories.  Great supporting work by Sigourney Weaver, Jon Voight, Henry Winkler and Tim Blake Nelson.

holes4. Disney’s The Kid

A movie I think about a lot despite its stupid title.  Bruce Willis meets his 12 year old self and they are both horrified with each other.  I have wondered many times what the 12 year old Rachel would think of my life.  In some ways she’d be thrilled and in others disappointed.  It’s a story that has huge heart and is maybe more for adults than children.   We all hope we have lived a good life and this movie makes me ponder every time I watch it.

the kid3. Saving Mr Banks

I am aware this movie is mostly fan fiction but for the story it tells it really moved me.  I love the ending when Tom Hanks tells Emma Thompson “I’m tired of remembering it that way”.  That really impacted me and made me think. I’m tired of remembering certain things from my life in certain ways.  It’s such a great example of showing how most humans have  a moment where childhood is over and most of us always resent whoever it was that gave us that moment.  For me it was bullies, for Disney it was his Dad making him deliver papers in the cold, for Travers it was her father dyeing on her.  Disney compensated with whimsey, Travers by scorning whimsey and embracing a whole new identity.

saving mr banks2. Pollyanna

One of my all time favorite children’s movies about a girl named Pollyanna (played by Hayley Mills) who having lost both of her parents has decided to live her life always looking at the upside.  Her positivity effects all around her including her stubborn aunt played by Jane Wyman.  Karl Malden is so good as the minister who realizes preaching fire and brimstone may not be the way to share God’s message. Agnes Moorehead is also great as a lonely cantankerous woman who learns from Pollyanna how to see color and light even from her room.  Yes it’s drippy and sentimental but it is all so well acted that when an event happens to cause  Pollyanna to loose her cheerfulness it is really quite devastating.  Then it ends on just the right note.  It’s a movie I don’t know if it could be made today.  We have all gotten too cynical for such a story which is kind of sad when you think about it. pollyanna1. Mary Poppins

In the running for the best children’s movie ever made.  It is practically perfect in every way! Julie Andrews as lovely as Mary, the positive yet sometimes stern governess to little Jane and Michael.  David Tomlinson is so great as Mr Banks the banker who believes in order and discipline and comes into conflict with Mary.   When he thinks he is going to be fired and see’s the Bird Lady it is a completely devastating moment.  He is not the villain of the picture which a lesser film would have done.  Glynis Johns is fun as the suffragette Mrs Banks and the kids are sweet and charming.

The music by the Sherman Brothers is unforgettable and dancing sequences like Step in Time are so captivating you hardly notice how long they are.  The animated section is whimsical and fun and who can forget Dick van Dyke bad accent and all as the free spirited Burt.  If the only flaw I can find in a movie is a bad accent I think that is pretty darn great.  Definitely one of Disney’s great movies.  Glad he fought Travers to make it!

mary poppinsSo there you go Disney.  How about you look at these films and remember how to make good live action instead of junk like Maleficent and Alice in Wonderland…Please!

Bonus Review: Saving Mr Banks

saving mr banksJust for fun I thought I would share my thoughts on a recent live action Disney film, Saving Mr Banks.  For some reason I waited to see the movie even though it stars my favorite living actress Emma Thompson and an actor I really like in Tom Hanks, and it is about the making of one of my favorite movies Mary Poppins.  I guess sometimes you don’t want the illusion to be spoiled by a behind the scenes look, so I waited until it came out on DVD and watched it.  I was blown away. It rapidly ascended the ranks to a top 10 favorite movie ever list.

Saving Mr Banks is directed by John Lee Hancock from a script by Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith that had been floating around Hollywood for a long time.    Tom Hanks plays Walt Disney and Emma Thompson is PL Travers, the author of Mary Poppins.  We also see Paul Giamatti in a wonderful, subtle performance as a the chauffeur Collin Farrel as Travers’ father, and Jason Schwartzman, Bradley Whitford and BJ Novak as the Sherman Brothers and team.  Everyone is great in this film.

The story centers around Travers, an insufferable curmudgeon,,  and Disney, the master of whimsey, as Travers is forced to relinquish the rights to her beloved Mary Poppins.  She hates the idea of everything Disney stands for.  He is childish is and stupid and he wants to turn her masterpiece into a joke.

They do not pull any punches with Travers.  She is a jerk to the 9th degree and normally this wouldn’t work so well but with Emma Thompson’s warmth and her back-story along the way I totally bought it.  I was actually glad they didn’t soften her edges but had the guts to make a lead character so unlikable.  It made her change and the ending so profound.

Hanks is great as Disney.  I have no idea if it captures the man but even little details like the fact he had a nervous twitch from constantly smoking is integrated into the performance.  He seems like someone who would be almost impossible to resist, which is a perfect contrast to Thompson’s Travers.

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So like I said Travers is incredibly resistant to the idea of her beloved Mary Poppins (never just Mary) dancing about in one of his cartoons. Why?  Why?  Well, we learn about her father who was a whimsical man, much like Disney.   I won’t give it all away but he disappoints Travers, wounds her and she is never the same.  In fact, she becomes an entirely new person, accent and all.  Collin Farrell is excellent in the flashback scenes as her father.

Colin-Ferrell-in-Saving-Mr.-Banks-2013An aunt comes into Travers life at a moment of crisis and she is inherently practical which is what she needed to get by.  So Travers became practical and created a character that could rescue people in the same way her aunt had rescued her.  That’s why it meant so much to her.

But it is not a morbid or solemn film, much of it is spent on the mechanics of working over the script with the producer and the Sherman Brothers.  Travers has opinions on everything from the house, to whether Mr Banks has a beard.  She is absolutely against using music or animation (we all know how she came out on that debate!).  She doesn’t like Dick van Dyke as a choice (hard to believe but true).  She even at one point criticizes one of the Sherman brothers and says he earned his limp in the war.

At least to me this banter and back and forth never got too heavy or drawn out because it was interrupted with the scenes from Travers life.  The pacing works perfectly. A lot of that also goes to Thomas Newman who wrote a fabulous score- one of the best I’ve heard in many years.

So great performances, beautiful music and cinematography, engaging premise- all part of why Saving Mr Banks is special but there was something else that made it a top 10 all time favorite.  At the end Tom Hanks flies to London and talks to PL about forgiveness and it deeply moved me.  It captures the profound idea that every person has a moment where childhood is over, and most of us spend the rest of our lives either resenting who gave us that moment or trying to recreate the innocence we lost.  In the case of PL Travers she rejected the whimsey of her father to deal with the pain, in Disney’s case he embraced it so they are the ultimate contrast.  I bawl whenever I see that scene.  It profoundly moved me.

I have my moment where childhood was done.  I wasn’t the most whimsical kid to start with, far from it.  But one day at the apex of being bullied I was thrown into the drinking fountain with a line of children and my dress was put over my head so everyone could see my underwear.  All of this within a teacher’s observation.  I remember looking at her and all the kids and realizing they weren’t going to help me.  I don’t resent those kids/teachers but I do wish I could have that moment back.  Maybe that’s why I like animation and children’s movies so much?  Characters like Ariel and Belle gave me confidence to stand up for myself and find my own version of happiness.

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I know Saving Mr Banks isn’t a perfect movie but that scene in London was perfect to me.  I also love the behind the scenes of how a movie is conceptualized and developed.  It’s interesting that we never see a set or backdrop or anything like that.  It is all at the script, storyboard stage.  I loved the actors who played the Sherman Brothers.  They are just trying to do their jobs and make their employer happy, and Travers is making it very tough on them.

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I also loved Paul Giamatti as the chauffeur.  He is subtle and their friendship felt authentic.  I’m surprised a big name like Giamatti would take such a small part but I’m glad he did.

It is also true the film is fan fiction and PL Travers hated the movie and wouldn’t give any rights to anything after the experience.  She cries at the premiere and you feel for her.  For her work and all that it meant to her.  It is not a tidy explanation no matter how technically inaccurate it might be.

So, I loved Saving Mr Banks.  I loved performances, music, story, cinematography, and the message of forgiveness.  If you haven’t seen it I highly recommend you do!

Content Grade- A-      Overall Grade- A+