The latest movie in the main mouse’s live action repertoire is Mary Poppins Returns, a sequel that comes out 54 years after the original Disney classic. As the title suggests – the film sees the live-in nanny return to London to look after one of the Banks children’s children but also the children themselves who are now adults. Understood…? Great.
The film is set just 25 years after Mary Poppins, so while I’m sure Julie Andrews would still have given it the old college try, Emily Blunt has been handed the keys to the carpet-lined handbag. And while the parrot-headed umbrella is quite the baton to take up, I can put your fears to rest because Emily Blunt’s turn as the nanny is, to borrow a phrase, practically-perfect in every way.
There was a lot of discussions when the studio announced this movie about who would be right for the part. Mary Poppins is, after all, one of Disney’s most iconic characters. Emily Blunt stepping into those shoes, however made perfect sense. Though admittedly, I might be biased because I think Emily Blunt is outstanding. She could be cast to play Arnold Schwarzenegger in a biopic and I’d probably still argue that she’s the right choice for the part.
That aside, joining Mary with Cockney(ish) accent in hand, is Jack the lamplighter played by Lin-Manuel Miranda. The brains behind the broadway hit Hamilton and the songwriter that brought us the Moana soundtrack, Miranda is just an Oscar away from reaching EGOT status – that is winning an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony award.
I thoroughly enjoyed Mary Poppins Returns – more in fact, than I thought I would. Mary Poppins is one of those films which I’ll watch when it’s on and know the songs as well as anyone, but it’s not a film I have on a pedestal. But I do know that many people think differently, so making a sequel needed to be done right. Mary Poppins was such a stylised, fantastical movie that the Returns director needed to step cautiously.
And in Rob Marshall (Memoirs of a Geisha, Chicago and Into the Woods), Disney appointed someone who could do just that. In this film, Marshall has crafted some visually-rich sequences that are dropping with nostalgia. So much so, they could easily be slotted into the original Mary Poppins while simultaneously delivering something new and incredibly engaging for the new film.
The songs, I felt were the thing that let it down. As I said, I know the songs pretty well from he first film – but unfortunately I couldn’t even hum the tune to one of the new ones. I can only imagine how tough it is to write songs to compete with the catchy nature of let’s go fly a kite or a spoonful of sugar, but I can’t help but feel like my overall feeling about the film would have been improved had I been able to recall even a single line from any of Mary Poppins Returns’ songs.
Reviews for the film overall have been a bit mixed. And I only needed to ask within my family to see that. Boxing day saw me head to the cinema with Mrs Izzard, my mum, step dad and younger brother. And just within that group, the responses ranged form ‘it’s not my thing,’ to ‘it was good fun – nothing groundbreaking.’ Following those up where an ‘absolutely loved it!’ This one came from a person who’s big fan of the original Mary Poppins and it got me thinking about the subjective things that can have an impact on our reaction to a film.
So when I talk about Mary Poppins Returns, we need to talk about nostalgia.
There are lots of films that we think are better than they are because they’re able to have a hugely emotional impact on us whether it’s the film itself or our associations with them. So when we think back to those emotions, we become nostalgic for that film.
I can think of several which I would rate as one of my favourites. Take Twister for example. I watched the tornado-centric film a lot when I was younger. And it’s not because ten year old me was awake enough to filmmaking techniques, the validity of visual effects and the nuance of character development. No, I love seeing that cow flying across the screen because Twister was one of the few videos my nan had and she loved bad disaster films. The nostalgia of watching Helen Hunt in her turn as meteorologist Dr. Jo Harding at my nan’s house drinking apple hi-juice is enough for me to think Twister is a much better film as it objectively is.
And isn’t that brilliant…? Twister really means something to me while many wouldn’t even dream of watching it more than once. This is just a part of the magic of filmmaking. A director can objectively make the worst movie possible – but because it reminds you of a single moment in time, it can subjectively mean an awful lot to you.
This injection of nostalgia can quickly change your film-watching experience. So the assumption that everyone should love Gone with the Wind in the same way is a bit misplaced. The objective nature of movies means that not everyone will see a ‘classic’ as such because of their nostalgia for a particular movie.
So next time you’re having a chat with someone who loves A Cinderella Story much more than Citizen Kane, don’t just assume it’s because they don’t have taste – there’s probably a lot more to it.