Mary Poppins Returns

August 22, 2019

I love both Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda, but they couldn’t save it.

This movie tries so hard. So very hard. Like, the musical numbers all line up to musical numbers in the first one:  Here’s the uplifting song about household chores! Here’s the one where we fall into the animated world and dance with penguins! Here are the cheerful working class dudes singing about how much they love their dangerous and debilitating jobs! I generally like musicals and singing and dancing but I got to a point where I wished they hadn’t tried so hard.

And the dead mother thing comes back. The family is in trouble because the mother has died and everything is now falling apart. This trope keep happening because it’s an easy, lazy way to begin a story with angst and drama. And as pointed out in a FB comment, it’s always the mother who dies because, conventionally, the mother is the one holding everything together, caretaker for both the children and the father. If the father died, the family would continue to function. The mother dies? Chaos. We saw this in The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, Beauty and the Beast, and so on. This is lazy, cliche storytelling dependent on a lot of unexamined stereotypes.

There’s another angle, I think:  Mary Poppins Returns needed to have adult Jane as part of the story. Writers often don’t seem to know how to make two adult women part of a story like this. (Mary Poppins isn’t really a woman, is she? She’s an Elemental. A Wizard.) If we had Jane and the mother (do we ever hear the Banks children’s mother’s name in this?  Like, at all?  See, mothers aren’t actually characters, they’re props.) would the story have enough to do for both of them?  The same thing happened in Maleficent:  Maleficent becomes Aurora’s mother figure, and then her bio-mother dies tragically halfway through the film, which was not part of the original Sleeping Beauty story. I think because the movie didn’t know what to do with two mother figures.

You know what would be interesting? Figuring out how to write two mother figures because it isn’t conventional and doesn’t rely on cliches.

And another thing… The original Mary Poppins a) Didn’t need to kill off the mother at the start and b) Had a clear message:  family is important and maybe you ought to pay attention to your kids once in a while.

What’s the message here?

Michael (the boy from the first movie, now a widower with three precocious children) is freaking useless. He screws up several times, in pretty big ways — mortgaging the house, falling behind on payments, and then sort of forgetting that he has this big inheritance and then losing the paper that proves he has this big inheritance. Sure, I guess the evil banker is evil for hiding evidence of the inheritance. But Michael I think is supposed to work in finance, and he doesn’t know how to handle these things? He’s just useless. And then, he is rewarded for screwing up.  No matter what happens, the cosmos will conspire fix it all because this is a movie designed to reassure the middle class that everything is a-okay!

Like, the city’s downtrodden working class, represented by the lamp lighters, will come together and risk their lives to ensure that he gets his massive inheritance so that he can pay off his mortgage?

Like, that actually happened? I dunno. It was all so weird.

The very best part of the movie was at the end, with a sudden appearance by Angela Lansbury and her distinctive voice. It was so wonderful to see her. They were all in the park with balloons instead of kites. But still.


One Response to “Mary Poppins Returns”

  1. Jared Moloshok Says:

    I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the whole “absentee/dead parent(s)” trope — when it works, when it doesn’t, when it’s okay to use and when it’s not, etc. Though it’s hardly an exact science, the main conclusion I came to is this:

    If a writer is going to use this trope, they should at least have the guts to try and make it a significant plot point, rather than using it as story garnish.

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