So I watched Mary Poppins Returns recently. I don’t think it’s as good as the original — nothing could be — but the songs are good. It’s more of the same — you can tell it’s matching beat for beat — but its source material is so good its hard not to smile once.
One thing that didn’t make me smile was the character development. And this movie’s been out for more than a year so this is nothing but getting something off my chest.
I thought a big part of the movie would be about Michael Banks’s dead wife. The trailers and commercials made it look like this was the big crux that the family had to get over. But no, Michael sings one song about it, then it’s forgotten until three-quarters through. Then the kids sing a song to him (not even a song, a reprise) and suddenly it’s all better. He just realizes that his wife’s not dead, she lives on in her children and oh, how everything’s hunky dory again. Like it never happened.
I’m bothered by this because I know if my wife died I would NEVER get over it. Not even if I remarried. My new wife would always be holding a candle to her, always under comparison. That’s a thing you can’t help if you marry a widower–that old wife is always going to be part of the picture. You can’t not talk about it. She was such a big part of your life it can’t be avoided.
And I think it’s insulting to the audience to gloss over that kind of thing. I imagined “The Place Where Lost Things Go” was a song Mary Poppins sang to Michael, counseling him that his wife’s not really dead, just “lost”. Temporarily. (Some might say that’s just as glossing, and that’s valid, but I think the sentiment is sweet as it’s Mary Poppins trying to heal Michael’s wounds, something you wouldn’t see the strict, no-nonsense Mary Poppins doing.) He actually does get sung the song, but it’s by his kids, and it’s in a room full of people. And he gets over it way too quickly.
Not to mention that the climax of the movie has bugger all to do with this internal struggle. The whole movie reads more like the books, where it’s just a bunch of fun adventures into imagination and no one really learns a lesson by the end. No one’s redeemed and changes to character, if they do happen, happen storybook style with no period or process. It imagines humans simply, not complexly.