Screening Room: ‘Mary Poppins Returns’

(Walt Disney Studios)

Going back to the well many decades later, Disney delivers a brand-new musical adaptation of P.L. Travers’ Mary Poppins books that’s not close to the original but better than it has any right to be.

Mary Poppins Returns opens wide today. My review is at PopMatters:

As the law of diminishing returns for any sequel is one of the immutable laws of the cinematic universe—and all the more so for movie musicals (no matter what those fiendishly wrong fans of Grease 2 might claim)—there was even less chance that Mary Poppins Returns could pull the same rabbit out of one of Poppins’ very fetching hats. Nevertheless, this sequel manages a somewhat impressive feat for the often groan-inducing Disney remake factory: it captures the essence of the original while adding just enough spark to set it apart…

Here’s the trailer:

Weekend Reading: July 1, 2016

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Screening Room: ‘Finding Dory’

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By the time you’ve read this, Finding Dory, the probably inevitable sequel to Finding Nemo, will have raked in millions. And for once, a preordained blockbuster sort of, kind of deserves to be one.

My review of Finding Dory is at PopMatters:

Finding Dory at least exceeds expectations, if not the original. As with any children’s sequel, particularly in the corporate-synergistic era when every popular animated property can’t just sit there like an exhibit on a shelf. Those characters need to earn their keep by delivering to the firm’s bottom line. It’s a relief to be able to report that they do so with much the same spirit of wonderment, easy humor, and teary-eyed sentiment that characterized the films that made Pixar the heir to the Disney mantle before it was acquired in 2006…

New in Theaters: It’s Time to Go ‘Into the Woods’

Emily Blunt and James Corden go 'Into the Woods' (Walt Disney)
Emily Blunt and James Corden go ‘Into the Woods’ (Walt Disney)

intothewoods-posterStephen Sondheim’s 1987 musical Into the Woods threw a couple Shrek ‘s worth of fairytales into the mix (Rapunzel to Cinderella and Red Riding Hood) and used them for a musically soaring but lyrically cynical story about the dangers of dreams granted. Rob Marshall’s lavish Disney adaptation is quite faithful to the original and comes packed with performances ranging from the unsurprisingly good (Meryl Streep’s Witch) to the revelatory (Chris Pine as the Prince).

Into the Woods opens on Christmas Day. My review is at PopMatters:

This narrative begins with a Baker and his Wife who are cursed with infertility by their witch neighbor. They can only break the curse by gathering up four talismans that helpfully bring all the other characters into play: “The cow as white as milk / The cape as red as blood / The hair as yellow as corn / The slipper as pure as gold”. The prologue includes an undertone as well, when the Baker adds, “I wish we had a child,” the juxtaposition typical of Sondheim’s best work, layered like so many fairy tales. Some 25 years ago, however, such layering was not the sort of thing that Disney’s heroes and gamines sang about. But the play’s reassessing of fairy tale tropes, its reinvigorating them with old Grimm’s blood and thunder, looked forward to the spunky heroines and broad-chested prince-villains who later cropped up in everything from Beauty and the Beast to Frozen…

Here’s the trailer:

Department of Holiday Poetry: ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’

nightmarebeforexmas1Back in 1982, when Tim Burton was an animator at Disney and directing a movie with Pee-Wee Herman was still years away, he wrote a little poem called The Nightmare Before Christmas. Years later, long after the stop-motion animated film version became an alt-parental favorite for pre-goth kids everywhere, this video was made of Christopher Lee (i.e., embodiment of stern-voiced evil as Saruman, Count Dooku, and many iterations of Fu Manchu) reading the poem itself.

The holidays are nearly upon us; enjoy:

DVD Tuesday: ‘Brave’

The newest Pixar film doesn’t have much in the way of cute animals, toys, or Randy Newman songs, but it does feature witches and some fancy archery, so that’s something. My review of Brave is at Film Journal International:

With a sterling roll call of British Isles vocal talent and some of the most lush and limpid animation to be found on screens this year, Pixar’s Brave is a feast for the eyes and ears, if not always the mind. Aimed more squarely at the younger set than many of their more adventurous fantasy outings like Wall-E, it’s a just-clever-enough take on an age-old and very classically Disney setup about a child and parent’s estrangement and rapprochement…

Brave is available today on DVD and Blu-ray.

You can see the trailer here: