Richard sat down with “Mary Poppins Returns” star Emily Mortimer. She plays Jane Banks, the grown up version of the girl in the original story. We talked about her love of the original book and why the story has great resonance for today.
A weekly feature from from ctvnews.ca! The Crouse Review is a quick, hot take on the weekend’s biggest movies! This week Richard looks at Emily Blunt in “Mary Poppins Returns,” Natalie Portman in “Vox Lux” and Jason Mamoa as the underwater monarch “Aquaman.”
Richard sits in with CTV NewsChannel anchor Lois Lee to have a look at the weekend’s big releases including the supercalifragilisticexpialidocious-ness of “Mary Poppins Returns,” the Transformers prequel “Bumblebee,” the underwater adventures of “Aquaman” and Natalie Portman as a pop star in “Vox Lux.”
Fifty-four years after Julie Andrews made her debut as “the practically perfect in every way” nanny, who flew in (courtesy of her parrot-handled umbrella) and introduced magic to the lives of the dysfunctional Banks family, the beloved Mary Poppins character is back in “Mary Poppins Returns.” The new Disney musical-fantasy picks up 25 years after the events of the classic, with Poppins, played by Emily Blunt, returning to help the Banks children after misfortune befalls the family.
Set in 1930s London during the Great Slump, a city of gaslights and chimney sweeps, “Mary Poppins Returns” sees the kids from the original Michael and Jane Banks all grown up and played by Ben Whishaw and Emily Mortimer. Michael’s wife passed away the year before and now he, his kids (Pixie Davies, Nathanael Saleh, and Joel Dawson) and housekeeper Ellen (Julie Walters) live in the Banks’s family home on Cherry Tree Lane, the house made famous by P. L. Travers.
When the bank calls in the loan Michael took against the house the family risks losing everything. “Pay back entire loan on the house or it will be repossessed in five days,” cackles the lawyer who delivers the notice. On that very day Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt), the nanny who helped Michael and Jane as kids, and her magic bag come to the rescue. “Good thing you arrived when you did Mary Poppins,” says Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda), former apprentice of Bert from the original film. Mary “I suspect that I am never incorrect” Poppins, helps the Banks family regain the joy and wonder that made their childhood years magical.
From the first song, “(Underneath the) Lovely London Sky”—“Count your blessings,” sings Jack. “You’re a lucky guy.”—the movie establishes its uplifting tone. It’s a frothy, satisfying concoction of nostalgia, music, fanciful visuals, elegance and optimism; a spoonful of sugar in bitter times.
Director Rob Marshall has made a full-on musical that mixes the best of old and new Disney. This thoroughly modern movie feels old-fashioned in the sense that it takes its time with the music, allowing the songs to breathe and the lyrics to sink in. But it isn’t simply an exercise in recollection. The smart new songs (written by Marc Shaiman with lyrics by Scott Wittman) refresh a familiar story, mixing seamlessly with snippets of songs from the original film blended into the score.
There are huge musical numbers, including a wild underwater spectacular, but the songs that work best are the more modest tunes like “A Conversation,” Michael’s requiem for his late wide. “These rooms were always filled with magic but that vanished since you’ve gone away.” It is heartfelt and heartbreaking. Ditto Mary Poppins’s “The Place Where Lost Things Go.”
Still, this is a movie that brims with joy. When the spunky Banks kids tell Mary Poppins (no one ever calls her Mary or Miss Poppins, its always first and last names) that they have “grown up a great deal in the last year.” She replies, “Yes. We’ll have to see what we can do about that.”
Like “Christopher Robin” from earlier this year, “Mary Poppins Returns” is ultimately about the importance of staying young at heart. The film essays Michael’s sense of loss and longing, his frustration at not knowing how to go on without his wife but it’s the upbeat attitude that gives it depth. “Everything is possible, even the impossible,” is a cliché but in context it is a call to believe, to have faith. If Michael believes in himself everything will be OK. That’s a potent message, delivered with a spoonful of sugar or not.
The cast impresses, delivering the film’s message with charm and verve. Emily Blunt brings a mix of strictness—“Sit up straight you’re not a flower bag,” she scolds.—and mischievousness to her character, effortlessly slipping into some very big shoes. Miranda provides a dose of musical theatre. Meryl Streep, as Mary’s eccentric cousin Topsy, offers a fun and funny lesson in perspective and Dick Van Dyke’s cameo as Mr. Dawes Jr. connects the old and new.
“Mary Poppins Returns” feels modern without sacrificing its nostalgic charm. There’s no “Supercallifragilisticexpialidocious” but, like the first film, there is plenty of heart.
Based on the true story of Walt Disney’s (Tom Hanks) attempts to convince cantankerous “Mary Poppins” author P.L. Travers (Emma Tompson) to sell him the movie rights to the story, “Saving Mr. Banks” may be the only documented case of a writer holding an entire studio hostage.
Walt Disney made a promise to his daughter that would take twenty years to fulfill.
The young girl loved the magical nanny Mary Poppins, and wanted her father to bring her to life on the big screen. Trouble was, writer P.L. Travers wanted nothing to do with Disney.
“These books,” she said, “don’t lend themselves to chirping and prancing.” Fearing his adaptation of Poppins would careen “toward a happy ending like a kamikaze,” she tried to explain that Mary was the “enemy of whimsy and sentiment.”
Still, Disney wouldn’t take no for an answer and that’s where “Saving Mr. Banks” begins.
In a last ditch attempt to woo her, Disney flies Travers to Hollywood to work on a script with songwriters Richard and Robert Sherman (Jason Schwartzman and B. J. Novak) and screenwriter Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford). The idea is to shape a movie that everyone can live with, but Travers, a pinched women whose withering remarks leave welts, is uncooperative.
(Side note: If she really was this contrary in real life, one has to wonder how the controlling Travers would have felt about having her actual life portrayed one screen.)
As the movie unfolds a psychological drama reveals itself in the form of flashbacks to Travers’s life as a child in 1907 Queensland, Australia. Turns out her contrary nature with the filmmakers comes from a deep seeded desire to protect the memory of her father, bank manager Travers Goff (Colin Farrell), a loveable scamp who drowned his inner torment with a sea of booze, and was the inspiration for the “Mary Poppins’s” patriarch, Mr. Banks.
“Saving Mr. Banks” is a serious movie about a whimsical movie. It also has darker underpinnings than you might imagine about the origins of “Mary Poppins.” The glossy Disney sheen casts its glow but the tone of the film is downbeat. Travers is a tough cookie, but heartbreakingly so. She’s a little girl lost, the product of an unhappy childhood that haunts her into adulthood.
It’s a character that could have been a flat line, a portrait of an unhappy woman with a perm-scowl and a bad attitude, but as Thompson allows her icy façade to melt Travers takes on dimensions. By the time we realize that Mary Poppins is not there to save the children but the troubled father the movie starts to pluck the heartstrings but because of Thompson’s skill it doesn’t feel manipulative.
Hanks is effortless as the folksy Disney. He hands in a quiet but lovingly rendered portrait with some real heart and lots of nuggets of wisdom.
Ditto Schwartzman and Novak, who breathe life into the creative process with enthusiastic performances and Paul Giamatti as limo driver Ralph. It’s a supporting role that doesn’t forward the story much but does add some nice light moments that seem to blunt some of Travers’s more deeply set psychological issues.
On the minus side “Saving Mr. Banks” hopscotches between time zones in Hollywood and Australia, a contrivance that slows both stories down, dividing the focus and keeping the audience off kilter for the entire running time. It’s a tough balance and the film doesn’t quite pull it off, but makes the uniformly excellent performances to cover the movie’s languid pacing.