Yesterday I mentioned something about saving my “grumpy about Christmas” post for today. But I’ve decided not to bah humbug it up.
It helps that I slept most of the day drugged up on advil and dayquil, so I’m a bit more chill.
Instead, I figured why not talk about movies?
After all, there’s nothing open over Christmas, so my family has had a lot of time to watch movies while I’ve laid about in a sickened stupor. Tonight I wanted to feature what I’d consider the double feature of “movies that are reboots of older things that nobody asked for and shouldn’t exist.”
Starting with the sort-of sequel to the 1964 Disney classic, “Mary Poppins,” and followed up with the Illumination take on Dr. Seuss’s classic, “The Grinch.”
So right off the bat, I think it’s fair to let you all know that I don’t have a hugely nostalgic connection to the original Mary Poppins. I’ve watched it and had the songs engrained in my head, but I didn’t walk into this pseudo-sequel with any inflated expectations.
That being said, I still fully appreciate the original for what was so groundbreaking about it. “Mary Poppins Returns” seems to appreciate it too, but to a fault.
The reason I keep calling the movie a “sequel” conditionally is because this movie essentially isn’t.
Yes, it takes place a few dozen years later and follows the exploits of the children from the first movie, now with families of their own. But the actual content of the movie is essentially just the original with a new coat of paint.
I’m not kidding. All of the musical numbers, from one set in a fantastical 2D world to one featuring the lamp lighters (a proxy for the original chimney sweepers) happened in just about the same sequence.
It even features all the same overarching messages about family and the importance of childhood wonder.
So really, think about “Mary Poppins Returns” as a reboot more than it is a sequel and certain elements about it become much better. But there are also elements that become far worse.
In the prior category: The visuals. All of the magical sequences and music numbers are gorgeous and well-composed. Most of them take on a similar style to their original counterparts and feel classic with updates to not be 50 years outdated.
Special props go to the portion of the film where Mary takes the Banks children into a porcelain bowl. There are little touches like everyone’s feet clinking while they walk that makes the whole sequence outstanding.
On top of that, I’d say that Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda do pretty good jobs fitting the large shoes left behind by Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke.
Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t give them a whole lot to work with.
My problems: Nothing outside of the visuals are memorable. There isn’t a single song I remembered, which is a shame considering how timeless and integral pieces like “Spoonful of Sugar” were to the original’s longevity.
It also falters from being a “sequel” that basically isn’t. There’s no exposition when Mary Poppins arrives, as it seems assumed that the audience has seen the original. She shows up, the parents remark that they remember her but don’t believe she was actually magic and then simply let her come in and bath their children.
It’s honestly that quick, which makes it clear the movie wanted to get to the whimsey without any of the groundwork.
A more nitpick-y personal gripe is that the movie is very inconstant with its rules. For instance, the parents remark on their disbelief of her magic but do not broach into the issue of her looking exactly the same outside of a quick joke.
Also, when Mary remarks that adults always forget the youthful joy of her magic, that’s quickly contradicted by the appearance of Miranda’s character — apparently one of the child chimney sweeps from the original — who happens to remember her.
I don’t want to harp on it too long at risk of sounding like someone leveling deeply analytical complaints at a children’s movie, but because of the lack of memorable songs and rehashed plot I was so bored by the middle of the film that I couldn’t help but nitpick it.
If you’re looking for a very pretty movie to park your kids in front of (or you adore the original), you’ll get a lot out of Mary Poppins Returns as a visual spectacle.
Outside of that, however, there isn’t a ton there that isn’t done better in the original. I’d say it’s average at best, and I likely won’t remember much of it next month.
Unlike Mary Poppins, I would count myself as an invested Grinch fan thanks to the wonderful 1966 Chuck Jones and Boris Karloff “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” It’s a true family classic that’s near perfect.
In contemporary cinematography, the Grinch has had a rougher time.
So with Illumination taking the helm of a second reboot in what I guess can be called the Dr. Seuss’s Grinch franchise, I was cautiously optimistic. I do like other movies of theirs like “Sing,” but bemoaned the possibility of it being very out-of-touch.
Having seen the movie now, I can pretty easily say it’s somewhere in the middle.
Outside of an unnerving character design for the titular character (those human-like pearly whites never sat well with me), “The Grinch” is a gorgeous movie. The environments especially, with a mix of Seussian winter wonderlands and more modern, opulent town settings.
However, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t cringe almost immediately hearing the rap version of the 1966 Grinch song. The soundtrack was probably the worst part of the movie if you ask me.
Either there was unfitting rap, too many modern day Christmas tunes that made me question just how human the Whos were in this universe, or a few strangely Jesus-heavy songs that made me question whether the Whos had a religious part of their Christmas traditions.
Are there Jewish Whos, in that case?
Outside of musical choices, the rest of the movie was handled was better than I had expected. The hour-and-a-half runtime mostly went quick. Pharrell Williams as the Narrator was… Okay. As was Benedict Cumberbatch as the Grinch.
I actually quite liked the way they handled his interactions with Max. Most of the best scenes in the movie were between the two of them, as it gave a lot of background to why they’re such good friends. More than the 1966 version, in a good way. Ties into the whole family narrative.
I’ll give Illumination props for it.
They also give Cindy-Lou Who a much larger role in the story, which is an idea I appreciate considering she is the crux that changes Grinch’s mind.
However in execution she’s pretty much every ‘I want to catch Santa’ cliché you’ve ever seen, has a design that was uncomfortably close to Edith from “Despicable Me” and has a ‘quirky’ character trait of carrying around a hockey stick for whatever reason.
The way her storyline intersects with The Grinch is predictable, but for a kids movie she serves her purpose well enough.
All-and-all, I’d say “The Grinch” 2018 was fun and well animated. Pretty good for what it was, even if parts of the set dressing were strange and uncomfortable for my tastes.
Though maybe I’m just too old and yelling at the kids on my lawn for their rap musics while lauding the original through rose-colored glasses.
That being said, I think the 1966 version and even (I shutter to admit) the Jim Carrey version did get something right which was almost detrimentally wrong with Illumination’s version.
You know how earlier I mentioned appreciating how cute the stuff between The Grinch and Max were? I do think it’s a nice touch, but it’s emblematic of the fact that the main character is made a little TOO cute, sympathetic and ‘relatable.’ The movie leans hard into his tragic backstory as justification for him acting like a jerk when in all honesty he’s probably the funniest, cutest Grinch we’ve ever seen.
But maybe that’s just a personal problem for me. After all, who am I to argue with a fun-loving misunderstood cool guy of a Grinch who uses lots of sweet gadgets in an (admittedly pretty great) Christmas-stealing montage.
It’s definitely not the worst version of the story you could show off.
Jim Carrey took that prize years ago.
Featured image courtesy of Thomas’s Pics via Wikimedia Commons