Mary Poppins shows us how we’ve changed since 1964

Summary: Remakes and sequels to classic films are valuable mirrors. They show as nothing else can how we have changed as a people. Mary Poppins Returns does so practically perfectly.

Mary Poppins Returns

Mary Poppins Returns skillful recreates a dead art form from America’s past. They sing. They dance. The animators and CGI artists skillfully produce magic. The cinematography is beautiful (it’s what Hollywood does best). The writers power Returns with nostalgia, since it has no soul. Perhaps because America has lost its soul.

Emily Blunt wonderfully portrays the Poppins from Traver’s books – more eccentric than loving. Her voice and charisma carries the film. The children are charming, and precocious (as usual in modern films). The other actors are adequate. The evil banker (Colin Firth) is cardboard, unlike the scarily realistic bankers of the Disney original. The father, Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw) is, as usual, weak and feckless. Which points to a big difference between the films, rooted in the difference between America in 1964 and 2018.

Mary Poppins described the spiritual redemption of a father, George Banks, aided by Mary Poppins and his children (the mother was pretty absent, involved in her career as a social reformer). His recovery began with an act of self-assertion – brass balls in action – by confronting the cold board of bankers. There was nothing at stake, except a father’s pride in his children. The cost was high, as such things are so often in life. But redemption is infectious (who knew?), producing a genuine surprise ending. Most readers will not have seen, or remember, the ending. Instead of spoiling it, I urge you to watch the film.

Returns is empty. Poppins does some magic. The father is weak and despondent at the start. He is rich and weak at the end. The family is poor and sad at the start. They are rich and happy at the end. Found money effortlessly solves their problems. The villain gets his comeuppance. Dick van Dyke (age 92) reprises his role in Poppins as the redeemed banker. That few minutes provides the one moment of genuine life in the film, a distant echo from a bygone age.

Feminists will see no bad gender stereotypes in Returns. The mother is dead, so there is no pro-natalist influence on the young audience. The women are all smart, strong, competent – and single. They are role models for the 21st century.

Returns also shows an important difference between Hollywood productions in 1964 and today. The original overflowed with witty dialog. There is little in Returns, mostly exposition. The film lurches from one musical set piece to another with little between (much as Lord of the Rings was stripped down to the battle scenes). This makes Returns feel like an empty treat – like cotton candy. The songs and choreography are fun but forgettable. It is a film for a shallow America, a people disconnected from their history (which our reformers despise) and values (which our reformers also despise).

Children will be taken to it by their parents (who are Disney’s customers). I wonder what they will think of it. I doubt it will stay with them as the original did with the Boomers. I wonder what will be the films that influence these children’s lives. For better or ill.

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Go back in time to see the originals

"Mary Poppins" poster
Available at Amazon.

See the original Disney film:

Mary Poppins (1964).

For something different, read Dr. P. L. Travers’ original Mary Poppins in the first four of her Mary Poppins books. She wrote eight books from 1934 to 1988.

Cover to the first "Mary Poppins" book (1934)
Available at Amazon.

11 thoughts on “Mary Poppins shows us how we’ve changed since 1964

  1. The 400-Word Review of Mary Poppins Returns

    By Sean Collier in Pittsburg Magazine.

    “The belated Disney sequel is a waste of a practically perfect character, even in its winning moments.”.

    …I saw the movie two days ago, and when trying to recall any of the songs, I find myself singing tunes from the “Simpsons” parody episode about Shary Bobbins.

    The problems are myriad, but they start with the title character. Blunt, a normally reliable performer, plays Mary Poppins as a femme fatale with the sex appeal extracted, adopting a bizarre tone that’s part sterile flirtation, part confusing derision. The children, whom I will not do the disservice of naming, are wooden, as is their poor pa. The nominal villain, an underwritten bank manager (Colin Firth), couldn’t be more of an afterthought. The music, by veteran Marc Shaiman, sounds like a direct-to-video attempt to imitate the original tunes without getting too close.

    And at no point does the movie happen upon a point.

    “Mary Poppins Returns” is wrestled to watchability thanks to a few excellent sequences, including a animated/live-action hybrid; it’s a marvel, and it also features the best numbers. Another stretch featuring a zany Meryl Streep performance is quite good as well. These small victories aren’t enough to make the film a winner, though; they’re only enough to keep you in the theater. It’s a waste of a practically perfect character, even in its winning moments.

  2. About Mary Poppins’ magic.

    In both films it is obvious that she is giving the kids – and at the end of the new film, an entire crowd – LSD. They are having adventures in their frontal lobes. That’s why they’re uncertain if these things really happened, and why the memories fade over time.

    LSD is often administered with sugar. As Poppins sings in the original, “a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down …”

    Also note at the end of Returns, the bad guy does not get his hit. He’s disappointed to be left out of the fun.

    Widespread use of drugs is a common plot device. In the TV show “Smallville” the citizens of that town are all high, all the time (they’re not supporting that nice little town – while farm towns around the nation are dying – by growing corn). That’s why nobody notices Superboy’s fantastic deeds, which he barely bothers to conceal.

  3. Well, I haven’t seen it, but your movie reviews tend to be spot on. I should, incidentally, take this opportunity to thank you for your reviews of Passengers and Red Sparrow. I might have overlooked both otherwise, and they were quite good.

    I shan’t attempt a deep and profound analysis of what this movie tells us about how we’ve changed. Deep and profound is beyond me at the moment. I will simply note that we seem to have a lot of trouble coming up with original intellectual properties these days. I guess they’re going to remake everything from my youth in inferior derivative form with PC added. Or make sequels that serve to remind me of how much better the original was. So as I slide into being an old man, I get to rewatch everything and talk about how things were better back then, and I should probably be drunk when I do it.

    We seem to be retelling the same stories with emasculated white men, super empowered white women, and recasting of some old characters with racial and/or gender changes. I suppose I get to look forward to tranny James Bond a few years down the road. I can hardly wait.

    1. The Man,

      “we seem to have a lot of trouble coming up with original intellectual properties these days.”

      I’d like to hear from someone who understands these things to explain why that is. Is it Hollywood – or us, the audience? Perhaps we’ve become like toddlers, who want only their favorite foods for each and every meal.

    2. A lot of this seems to be due to expiring copyright and option deals on IP. In many cases, the studios, producers, and others who have purchased the right to make a film/TV show only have a window of time in which to make the product. If they fail to make a product on time, they lose the rights. An example of how this can go very wrong is the Warren Beatty-Dick Tracy kerfuffle (if any cares to look it up). Due to expiring rights on many classics, I fear the original poster is correct in his assessment that we will see many more desultory remakes in the near future.

  4. “I’d like to hear from someone who understands these things to explain why that is. Is it Hollywood – or us, the audience? Perhaps we’ve become like toddlers, who want only their favorite foods for each and every meal.”

    I don’t those those two are mutually exclusive. It has seemed to me that once the Boomers moved into positions of power in Hollywood they started remaking, on much larger budgets, the movies and TV shows they enjoyed way back then. The examples are too numerous to list here, and to the extent that these things are supposed to find an audience, they’re expected to find it among Boomers. This Mary Poppins movie is case in point. When they remake these movies, they do the requisite virtue signaling and whatever else, so you get the SJW stuff and the feminist narratives mixed in.

    I once heard a guy who had tried to sell scripts in Hollywood talk about going to see producers. (No names here, I can’t use ’em) He said producers never wanted to hear what a movie was about, they wanted to know what it was like. Well, it’s like Jaws, except it’s got a gerbil in it. It’s like Die Hard, except that it happens in a Mickey D’s. if you said this was a totally unique and original screenplay, then that as death to a producer.

    I remember sitting in a restaurant and handing some money to the waitress to pay the check, and there was a song on the radio from, I think The Eagles, and I said to the waitress, who was cute, apart from the fact that she had too much ink “You know, the first time that song was on the radio, I was your age.” She laughed, because she may have been as sick of hearing the same songs as I am. There’s no getting away from it. I think there’s some truth in both of the explanations you suggest.

    Edward J Epstein has written some good books about the business end of Hollywood that are worth reading. (The Big Picture, The Hollywood Economist)

  5. Are there no new idea’s in Hollywood ? What is with all the remakes, retellings, reboots, etc.?

    Cant they find some new ideas? I think they are just trying to capitalize on the nostalgia of the parents.

    If i wanted to show the kids in my life Mary Poppins, I show them the original.

    1. Sven,

      I’ll bet big that Holywood overflows with creative people having new ideas. And the cities of America have even better people – outside the Left’s bubble – with even more.

      Plus our literature has not been well used by Hollywood. For example, only a few of science fictions great stories have been used (other than Philip K. Dick’s stories). And of those that have been used, many have been twisted for ideological reasons (e.g., Heinlein’s Starship Troopers) – and failed at the box office.

  6. “He is rich and weak at the end. The family is poor and sad at the start. They are rich and happy at the end. Found money effortlessly solves their problems. ”

    This is the ending, but I appreciate saving the $15. Now I can skip. Original Poppins, Disney’s version, was not about searching for money. It was about breaking away from that — about compassion over greed.

    1. Cathryn,

      The film is quite the mystery to me. Do the different plot arcs – 1964 and today – reflect how America has changed (as I say in this review)?

      Or were the new writers just doofuses who did not watch – or perhaps did not understand – the 1964 film?

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