The original “Mary Poppins” is a ground-breaking cinematic achievement that is as magical today as it was in 1964. There’s no way a sequel could match it, and if this is the reason some people don’t like “Mary Poppins Returns,” they’re missing out on a story that this world, at this time, desperately needs and will probably fail to hear. “Mary Poppins Returns” isn’t about saving the children or saving the father; it’s about saving ourselves.
“Mary Poppins Returns” is similar to the 1964 “Mary Poppins” that it’s a sequel to. There are songs, hand-drawn animation combined with live action, a bunch of working-class men doing dancing in the most preposterous of ways, a female character fighting for a cause, a weird relation who’s facing an impossible affliction and a father whose situation has caused him to forget all of the things he learned as a child when Mary Poppins was his nanny.
From a time before the film was released, it was clear:
Emily Blunt is no Julie Andrews.
Lin-Manuel Miranda is no Dick Van Dyke.
Meryl Streep is no Ed Wynn, but you might not
recognize her either.
Marc Shaiman is no Sherman Brothers.
I should probably repeat that last statement. There isn’t a
tune that I was humming at the end of the movie. “Mary Poppins” gave us “A Spoonful
of Sugar,” “Supercalifragilisticexpialadocious,” “Let’s Go Fly a Kite,” “Feed
the Birds,” “Step in Time,” and “Chim-Chim-Cheree,” which won the academy
award. “Mary Poppins Returns” gives us…
Whatever you’re doing this Christmas, go see “Mary Poppins Returns.”
It’s grown up a little while keeping most of its innocence intact. (The “Book
by It’s Cover” Sequence is a bawdy vaudeville style song.)
As Charles Dickens wrote in ‘A Christmas Carol’: “It is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child himself.” Creativity requires people to be child-like. Children are insatiably curious. They combine things that no one else would think of; they explore the intersections where concrete meets grass and water meets land.
Kaws, Sesame Street and Uniqlo have teamed up to kill your favorite Sesame Street characters. Big Bird, Bert, Ernie, the Cookie Monster and Elmo are dead as evidenced by the exes in their eyes and the inert way they interact with the Kaws character himself.
Exed out eyes are a long-time symbol of death used in comic strips and by serial killers. The eyes are the mirrors of the soul and the accusers. The stare at the killer until his guilt causes him to kill the staring entity and remove sight from this world, either through a plucking out of the orbs or through a closing of the eyelids.
What is Kaws trying to assert with his exed-out-eyes Sesame Street characters? Do they sardonically grin while representing the death of childhood and innocence, or is something more sinister afoot? Perhaps, Kaws is looking to represent the death of American education through the death of the most recognized symbol of learning in the Western World.
The sales team at Uniqlo will tell you that it’s just theartist’s signature style; the characters aren’t dead. No one should be naïve enoughto believe Kaws doesn’t know the significance of the exes. For that matter,Uniqlo and Sesame Street shouldn’t have missed the meaning.
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If you haven’t seen “Wreck-It Ralph 2,” look away now. This review probably contains spoilers. If you’ve seen “Ralph Breaks the Internet,” continue below the trailer.
When Wi-Fi gets plugged in at the arcade and Ralph’s good intentions mess something up, it’s up to Ralph and Vanellope to visit the World Wide Web and find the part that fixes the problem. The fish out of water find a variety of new experiences that they can’t explain. Some of it is as disconnected and strange as the Internet in real life. You might find yourself wondering what you’re actually watching.
However, it isn’t until the Disney Princesses show up that “Wreck-It Ralph 2” finds its groove. The princesses are fun and redeeming, and Disney continues doing what it’s been doing to its princesses since “Frozen” and before.
Fortunately, “Ralph Breaks the Internet” contains more themes than a typical Internet usage day. Identity, friendship, and dreams all take center stage and provide fodder for the movie goer to think about. Of course, if thinking isn’t your thing, there are plenty of “duty”-type jokes to keep you happy. Though no one says you can’t enjoy both. As always, staying until the end delivers a… reward?
On a visceral level, the new “Lion King” trailer strikes all the right notes. The sunrise, the building crescendo, James Earl Jones, the beginning of the stampede scene as James Earl Jones talks about his demise, and the African Call that is the original movie’s signature. It inspires goosebumps and causes the heart to speed up. Remember! Let’s face it. People are going to see this remake, and they are going to love it. That doesn’t mean there aren’t problems with the idea of it.
Same Old Stories
Disney has gone into their film vault, dragging their beloved animated classics into the light and exposing them to live-action remake status. Some may point to 1996’s “101 Dalmatians” with Glenn Close as the first successful live action remake. It was successful enough, and possibly sold enough toys, to inspire a sequel. However, 2014’s “Maleficent,” with Angelina Jolie who was born for the role, started the current era of live action adaptations. It was followed by “Cinderella,” “The Jungle Book,” “Beauty and the Beast,” and Christopher Robin.” With one movie released every year. “Dumbo,” “Aladdin,” “The Lion King” and “Lady and the Tramp” are on the docket for 2019.
That’s four live action adaptations in a single year. Those aren’t new stories; they are recycled stories that required less creativity to make and provided more stability for the financial side of the ledger. People may say they want new stories; they don’t. They want properties they know they are going to enjoy, especially when they are spending $15 a ticket. If people wanted new stories, “Kubo and the Two Strings” would’ve been a box office hit. And from the looks of it, “The Lion King” is going to give the audience what it wants. The trailer shots are ripped straight from the animated film. This isn’t a remake or remodeling; it’s a straight up rerelease.
Sequels and Remakes
The Disney, Marvel, and Star Wars film factories are releasing, or distributing, 12 films next year, including “Glass,” a sequel to “Unbreakable,” and “Split.” Of those 12, only “Artemis Fowl,” the DisneyNature release “Penguins” and, possibly, the Marvel production “Captain Marvel” are not sequels or remakes. Giving “Captain Marvel” the benefit of the doubt, the same universe doesn’t necessarily make a sequel or prequel in this case, only 25 percent of Disney’s 2019 releases are new stories. That’s bad for writers and people who are creating new ideas. And let’s face it, “Penguins” is more like a public service, which I’m totally going to go see because, uh, PENGUINS! (Shameless plug: Come on, my website is “penguinate”and my wife makes stuffed penguins, which you should buy!)
Not Live Action
“The Lion King” is being lumped in with Disney’s live action remakes of animated films, but it isn’t live action. No matter how beautifully rendered, the characters are computer animated. At least in “The Jungle Book,” Mowgli was a real actor on screen. (Props to Neel Sethi who had to act against the green screen.) “The Lion King” is computer generated images that, at least as far as the trailer is concerned, will match the animated classic in every way. Fire up the computer and redo every Disney Classic that way; maybe, it will allow Disney to extend the copyright, again, of “Steamboat Willie” before it expires in 2024.
Disneyland and Mary
There’s a story that at the end of the premier of the original “Mary Poppins,” P.L. Travers had some suggestions for making the film better. Walt looked at her and said something to the effect of “Pamela, that ship has sailed.”
One of the many reasons that Disneyland exists is because Walt wanted something he could change. Once the movie was done, there wasn’t any going back and redoing it to make it better. That ship has sailed, except now, The Walt Disney Company is remaking the films. They just aren’t making them necessarily better.
Where’s the Creativity?
The original “Lion King” made just under $1 billion dollars worldwide in 1997. It was the highest grossing animated film of all time (not adjusted for inflation) and remained at the top of the list until “Toy Story 3.” The new “Lion King” might not live up to the original, even if Disney gets it right – whatever that may mean. Maybe only die-hard fans will see it a second time, but judging by the Twitterverse… God, Disney’s going to make some cash, and that’s bad for creativity. (See Pixar.) Why take a risk when you can take a known commodity, change its medium slightly, and make a boatload of money?
Want More Creativity?
If you want more creativity in the world, I urge you to find several independent authors and artists and support them. Give up one movie this year and use that money to pledge $1 a month to someone on Patreon. Go to a comic convention and find an artist in Artist Alley; buy something from them. I’d love for it to be me. Mostly, I’d love for us to get more original stories out there. We all have a story to tell, but they need to be supported financially in order to get heard.
Thanksgiving is traditionally a day of cooking, football and expressing love and gratitude for those who make life worth living. Capitalists and big box retailers are taking that away from Americans and turn Thanksgiving into another day to bolster the bottom line. It is time to take back Thanksgiving before these ne’er-do-wells get a foothold on the last bastion of family time.
Those who enjoy watching football on TV are in luck as long as they own a DVR or another way to get rid of the commercials. If a family happens to not have this convenience, it may be better off avoiding the TV and its commercials altogether.
That means filling those hours of family time with meaningful activities. Board and card games can be fun if everyone remembers that it is just a game. Try Charades or Win, Lose or Draw – it is hard to be mad when family members are doing ridiculous things to get their points across. To make it more fun avoid the points altogether, don’t even keep score.
Do something creative. You will need to plan ahead to get the supplies, but Thanksgiving is the perfect time to get together and make your Christmas presents for those who are far away. They don’t have to fancy or great, they just have to come from the heart.
Eat plenty of dessert. If you are lucky, you will be so full that going out to buy something during Thanksgiving will be more of a chore that can wait than a must-do event that retailers want it to be.
“AAAAAAAAA!” The man went running by screaming as loudly as he could. His bag was flapping against his hip. The raven noticed that it wasn’t latched.
The bear went by a moment later. Seeing opportunity, the raven flew into the air and followed the two creatures through the wilderness.
It was obvious that the bear was toying with the man – running leisurely, catching up to the man, taking a half-hearted swipe at the legs and falling back again.
The man, on the other hand, was terrified. He didn’t noticed when his hat flew off. He lost a shoe at the last turn, and it looked like his bag was about ready to dump its contents. He, also, hadn’t stopped screaming since the raven first spotted him running down the trail.
The bear was gaining on the man again. He took a swipe and snagged his claw on the bag. Something silver tumbled out as the man ran faster than the raven thought men could run. The bear was too busy to notice what he had knocked loose. Bear and man continued down the trail; raven lit upon the top of a pine.
He looked down at the trail. It was a… No, it couldn’t be… But it was – a FISH! The raven called out his claim to the fish at the same time that another call came from the tree exactly opposite to him. Raven recognized the call as that of a gull. He called back to the gull in the gull’s language. The gull responded with a threat. The raven returned the threat. They eyed each other. Both left their trees at the same time and clashed in mid air. Black, white and gray feathers fell from the sky and onto the trail.
The birds returned to opposite sides of the trail. The raven knew he was smarter and more sophisticated than the gull, but the gull was cunning when it came to procuring food to satisfy its voracious appetite. He called to the gull. The gull ignored him – its mind was consumed with the thought of its next meal.
The gull darted out from its tree. The raven intercepted him. The gull shouted “MINE! MINE! MINE!” as the two birds fell to the ground, claws interlocked, beaks snapping. They pecked, snapped, scrabbled and flapped. They scratched and screamed. They hopped on each other – neither gained a clear advantage.
Both tired, they stepped away from each other. Black eyes stared into gold eyes. Both squinted. Their chests heaved as they tried to regain their breath. Then, the raven heard something. He cocked his head to keep one eye on the gull and to look at where the other sound was coming from.
There, where the fish had been, sat three bloated magpies – clattering away like some old hens. The fish was no where to be seen.
Author’s Note: Living in Alaska gave me time to explore the wilderness and watch animal behavior in the wild. My time wandering the streets of Anchorage, where a gull attacked me, and through the woods near and far in the rest of the state gave me the experience I needed to write this story. What life experience have you used to further your creativity?
Kubo and the Two Strings was released in the U.S. in 2016, and according to IMDB, it made about $76 million worldwide with $48 million in the U.S. This is sad and maybe should be left for another day and another discussion about originality and sequels. As it is, if you are among the many who haven’t seen this film, I suggest seeking it out, maybe with this link, and pressing play before you read the rest of this article. It’s okay, just bookmark this article and come back to it. You’ll be glad you did, and if you aren’t you can tell me why in the comments below. This was a long-winded way to say:
SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT
Kubo goes to the village every day to tell his stories. He brings them to life with origami characters made with the magic of music. The people gather around him and watch intently as he strums and talks his way through the deeds of his father as told by his mother and translated through Kubo’s magic. Storytelling isn’t just something people do around a campfire or to their children at night. The best advertisers, TV shows and sports broadcasts know that story is what keeps people in front of their sets and buying products. Storytelling is a powerful tool anyone can use. Storytelling can improve people’s moods, capture their attention and make them beg for more.
We are the stories others tell about us. As Beetle points out to Monkey, Monkey will live on in Kubo’s stories and through generations of storytellers who pick up Kubo’s thread. She will continue to live, even when her spirit leaves this plane. Kubo’s grandfather forgets who he is and becomes the person in the stories of the villagers. The moment is both profound and dark as he is a microcosm of living up to what others believe about him.
Storytelling is magic. It can bring the dead back to life and create images that never existed. It can be used to enhance a person’s worldview and self-esteem or to destroy that person. Storytelling is one of the most powerful ways to keep memories alive, and it’s something people have done since they first gathered together in groups.
Long before there was written language man gathered in the caves of Lascaux and painted pictures on the wall. They used these pictures,that came to life in the flickering firelight and the imagination of the audience to tell their stories – how to hunt, how to survive, and what it meant to be a part of the tribe. People kept their stories alive, so the next generation could learn and grow from them. Keep your story alive, tell it in whatever medium you are comfortable with, and if you don’t know what that medium is, find it. You and the world will be glad you did. Human beings are storytellers. You are a storyteller.
Looking at the box office scoreboard, this discussion may seem like a no-brainer. Clearly, Marvel wins in every aspect of movie profitability. Critics and audiences alike seem to score Marvel films highly, and the receipts for this $4 billion Disney purchase make Marvel a bargain buy for the House of the Mouse. While the box office dominance is undeniable, this doesn’t mean that Marvel has a better fan base; it just means that it has better movies.
In fact, the box office reveals something quite different. DC clearly has the better fan base. When a POS like Batman Vs. Superman can rake in $872 million worldwide, it isn’t the casual fan that is making that happen. When a decent but not super film like Suicide Squad can show the legs it has at the end of summer start of fall, it is the DC fans that are making it happen. DC has been making clearly inferior films, and yet, those films have been blockbusters. It can only be fans who return time and again to see their favorite characters. If Marvel had the same fan base, it would have garnered more than the current 4 in the top 12 films on the all-time box office list.
Not only are DC fans propping up the box office, they are also propping up the advertising campaigns. A vocal movement, which made international headlines, to shut down Rotten Tomatoes because of the critic rating of Suicide Squad was enough to create more curiosity among casual movie goers. This seemingly absurd and outlandish petition generated controversy and kept Suicide Squad in the minds of the population who may have otherwise skipped the film because of the critic rating. Critics are often wrong, and in this case, it worked to the advantage of the film.
All of this happens at a company that has no Stan Lee at its forefront. Lee is a god amongst geeks, and his word generally carries fans beyond the pale. His presence in every Marvel film, doesn’t make the film better necessarily, but it does make the fanboys and girls squeal. Lee and his cult of personality should be able to drive every Marvel film above the $1 billion mark. Instead, DC is relying on the strength of the appeal of its characters, if not the actual characters themselves, to bring in audiences, and it has thus far worked.
Marvel films may be glorious hits that are super profitable, but they are drawing on the return presence of fans that aren’t necessarily Marvel fans. DC relies on its core of superfanatics to make sure that it has enough in box office to bring out the next movie. That gives the rest of us hope that DC will figure out how to make the next movie wonderful.
Stan Lee’s death isn’t a tragedy; he lived a long life full of creativity, which inspired and comforted millions of fans. He gave us characters and comic books that will live on. While We may be saddened at our lost, Stan Lee gave us the greatest gifts he could while he lived. That is what we must treasure, hold onto and emulate.
If his passing has dimmed the world’s light even a little, it is up to us, as his legions, to continue his legacy, to continue to create and to give the world stories that make people feel alive, feel better and feel less alone. If we can’t create the stories, we can aspire to be the people Stan Lee wrote about. With great power comes great responsibility; we are the ones who will carry on with the power Stan Lee once yielded.