Mary Poppins is a film and character that has become synonymous with both the Disney Company as well as Walt Disney himself. Per usual, if you’re coming to this blog, I’m going to go ahead and assume you know the gist of this Disney classic. Even people who aren’t Disney obsessives have seen this at some point in their childhoods. In the off chance that you aren’t familiar, this movie was released in 1964 and stars Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke. It contains some fantastic and groundbreaking sequences that combine live action and animation, and it gave us the Disney classic songs A Spoonful of Sugar, Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, Chim Chim Cher-ee and Feed the Birds. It’s an all-time classic in the Disney canon as well as film musical history in general.
As we approach the film’s release, I’m super curious about a few of the aspects of the film. Not just regarding the ability to make a movie that feels tonally and stylistically similar to the original in 2018, but also what this film’s success could mean for both animation and the Disney Parks. Pardon me while I indulge in the age-old blogging tradition of writing extensively about a film even though I’ve only seen the trailer. Let’s go!
Style and Tone
Right off the bat, the first thing I’m curious about is how the style of a film like Mary Poppins can work in 2018.The original Mary Poppins, with its mix of live action and animation, seems an odd artifact in today’s entertainment climate: Don’t get me wrong – this can all totally work, and I hope that it does. I’m just thinking that it will be interesting to see if the things that made the original Mary Poppins special in the 1960’s can cast the same spell on audiences in 2018.
As for tone – I don’t know what to think about how this film seems to look based on the trailer, and how that will translate to audiences that are familiar with the original. The first Mary Poppins has the kind of bright lighting and vintage film grain that renders it cheery and appropriate for all ages pretty much automatically (as many Disney films from that era seem today). Just by the era in which it’s being made, this new one can’t help but look smoother and more modern. However, the trailers really give the impression that this film has a vibe that is very indebted to the Harry Potter films – quiet, gloomy, a muted color pallet and a tone that is more than a little foreboding and melancholy. Obviously this can all come together and work great in context, and we all know that movie trailers often misrepresent what the actual film is that they’re advertising. Still, there’s a thin line between Mary Poppins’ shenanigans being charming and creepy, and I’m wondering how this is all going to play out not only for people familiar with the original, but with modern kids in general.
As a fan of all things animated, I regularly spend time wondering if hand drawn animation will ever be something that is regularly produced by movie studios again. Yes, I think about this often. Yes, I am an insane person.
I love hand-drawn (or 2-D animation). I also love computer animation and I don’t see any reason why both can’t exist if the techniques are done well and fit the story they are trying to tell. It’s just that hand-drawn animation is such an integral part of Disney’s history that it’s hard to believe they don’t even make the stuff anymore.
After Pixar revolutionized animation through creating fully-realized computer animated films, every studio that was producing animation jumped on the bandwagon. Unfortunately, I think most studios assumed that Pixar’s success was due to how amazing their films looked and not how great their storytelling was (and often still is). I’m sure some percentage of people who saw Toy Story in the theater bought a ticket because they were curious about how it looked, but it succeeded financially because it was a great movie with timeless characters and a fantastic story. Not simply because it was flashy-looking.
I make this judgement based on limited experience. All I know is that my son, who is four and has seen many Disney and Pixar movies, has never once commented on the animation. To him, Monsters, Inc is to Sword in the Stone is to Cars is to Lady and the Tramp. He loves these movies because of how they move and how they keep his attention and how they make him feel by the end. Yes, this is an anecdotal study done with one child, but that’s my study and I’m sticking to it.
The last hand-drawn animated film Disney produced was The Princess and the Frog, which is a fantastic film, though by the time it came out hand drawn animation had been dormant for so long, it definitely looked dated and retro. Though it wasn’t a box office bomb by any means, it certain wasn’t close to the kind of earner that a Finding Dory is, and that seemed to be the end of hand drawn animation on the big screen.
Until Mary Poppins Returns, that is. Judging by the trailers and the promotional materials Disney has released in advance of the film, there appears to be at least one major sequence that utilizes some pretty complex hand-drawn animation. If Mary Poppins Returns is wildly successful, could it possibly prove that audiences still like hand-drawn animation? I have no idea, but I would love for that to happen. Something tells me that if Frozen 2 was hand-drawn, people would still flock to it in droves because they love the characters and songs, and the great animation is a bonus.
Mary Poppins in the Disney Parks
Though the character of Mary Poppins has been depicted in various Disney Parks over the years through character meet-and-greets and subtle park designs that give a nod to the film, a Mary Poppins ride has only been a rumored coming attraction to various Disney Parks for decades. There have been all kinds of concepts tossed around and never built. One of the best examples is this ride concept created by legendary Imagineer Tony Baxter (click this link for a great video detailing what it would have been like).
Long story short – if Mary Poppins Returns is a massive success, does that mean we’ll finally get a Mary Poppins ride in the Disney Parks? Anything’s possible…after all, we’re getting a Tron coaster for goodness sakes, which still doesn’t actually seem like it can be a real thing to me (not to mention the fact that it’s scheduled to be built in Tomorrowland and not Hollywood Studios…WHAT?!). If Disney actually used Tony Baxter’s design for a new Poppins ride, I’m totally on board.
As should be obvious, I’m pretty excited to see Mary Poppins Returns next week. I am trying to go in with no expectations but I certainly hope to come away with great things to say about it. I guess we’ll see on December 19th !
See ya real soon!
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