Huzzah! Netflix has a new animated film out this weekend, and it’s perfect for a family movie night.
The Premise: An old man named Andrés gets a second chance at love when his old flame reaches out to him in Cuba, inviting him to her final show in Miami for a lovers’ reunion. Andrés is touched, and has just the thing: a love song he wrote for her when they parted ways years ago. Unable to deliver it to her himself, his new partner (in life and in business, but not in love), a singing monkey named Vivo (voiced by Lin-Manuel Miranda), takes it upon himself, with a the help of a little girl named Gabi (Ynairaly Simo), to make Andrés’ last wish come true.
The Verdict: I don’t expect much from Netflix animation, but clearly I need to revise my bias as the last few examples have proven me wrong. I hoped Vivo might be good, but I was delighted to find myself loving it. The animation was quite pleasant, and the songs were nearly first-rate – some of them may even live lives outside of streaming. I even learned a little something: the monkey Vivo isn’t a monkey at all. He’s actually a kinkajou, also known as a rainforest honey bear, a nocturnal, fruit-eating tree-dweller more related to raccoons than to monkeys. They’re also surprisingly good singers and look quite dashing in small hats and foulards. Enjoy.
However much you thought I was looking forward to seeing Hamilton on Disney+, double it. Then cube it. Then add 10 000 more. Then halve it. Then times it by 13.24 million billion. Then you’d at least be within a three planet range of my excitement supernova.
Hamilton: the hit Broadway play that no one could ever get tickets to, and now you don’t have to! I mean, still do, if you haven’t already. There’s an electric current to a live performance that streaming can’t quite replicate – but this one sure comes the closest. This is not a film adaptation of a play, it is the stage performance itself, taped in front of a live audience, with so many cameras and angles and microphones even Lin-Manuel Miranda’s own mother can’t get seats this good.
Miranda disrupted Broadway with his follow-up to the very well-received In The Heights. Hamilton is a very old story told in a very fresh way. American founding father Alexander Hamilton is perhaps not the most enthusiastically remembered by history, but Miranda gives just cause for his placement among the greats, and pays tribute to him with his own unique blend of culture, politics, and song. The actors portraying contemporaries such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson are from diverse backgrounds, representative of today’s American population, and reflective of the period’s influx of immigrants. The costumes are relatively period-appropriate, with just a kiss of the modern to still feel true to the hip-hop-heavy numbers.
The original Broadway cast appears on stage, performing together one last time before many of them dispersed to other projects (the musical itself of course lives on, or it did before COVID darkened Broadway’s lights). This show was so electrifying that it blew up every single person in the cast – making the likes of Daveed Diggs, Anthony Ramos, Leslie Odom Jr., Jasmine Cephas Jones, and Renée Elise Goldsberry household names, or pretty near. Certainly they were the toast of Manhattan and all have continued to find fame and fortune beyond the shadow cast by Hamilton. Lin-Manuel Miranda is chief among them of course, tapped by the folks at Disney to write songs for Moana, and to co-star in Mary Poppins Returns.
Disney was so exuberant about Hamilton that it paid a record-setting $75 million for its distribution rights, and set it for a fall 2021 release. However, COVID-19 reared its contagious head, shutting down stage and cinema alike. So Disney made the decision to bring Hamilton to the people, and Miranda made family viewing possible by sacrificing two of his 3 f-bombs (only half of one remains, the f word started and implied but not completed).
Hamilton is such a startling and tasty treat it simply must be seen. Director Thomas Kail makes sure this film feels just as vital and urgent as any live performance. The actors, having rehearsed their roles on Broadway for an entire year before filming in 2016, are at the very tops of their game; besides Miranda, Leslie Odom Jr., Phillipa Soo, Jonathan Groff, Daveed Diggs, Christopher Jackson, and Renee Elise Goldsberry all earned Tony nominations. Of its unprecedented 16 nominations, Hamilton won 11, including, of course, Best Musical. And it really is.
Mary Poppins Returns is practically perfect in every way. It looks wonderful, whimsical, fanciful, a dreamscape. The animated sequences are next-level. The choreography is lively and polished. The costuming, by genius Sandy Powell, makes me tremble, its candy colours and hand-painted detailing an absolute riot. It’s wearable happiness.
And the cast. The cast! Ben Whishaw and Emily Mortimer play Michael and Jane Banks, the original kids from the first Mary Poppins, all grown up. Julie Walters tinkers in the kitchen as the hard-working maid, Ellen. Lin-Manuel Miranda plays Jack, the effervescent but largely ineffective lamp lighter (he might light 3 lamps total during the course of a 2 hour movie because his song and dance breaks are so frequent; the lamp lighter’s union must be fabulous). Together, they’re already a dream cast, but then director Rob Marshall plunks down Emily Blunt as the iconic nanny, Mary Poppins. Ho-lee shit. I mean, every ounce of credit to Julie Andrews, but since she’s vacated the seat, Emily Blunt is absolutely the perfect choice to carry the carpet bag. Anyone else in the role is simply unimaginable. And Colin Firth and Meryl Streep are BONUSES? Ex-squeeze me? Pure casting heaven.
But here’s the deal: despite there not being a single smudge dirtying up the glass, the magic just wasn’t there for me. I wanted to love this movie. Maybe I wanted it too much. It has all the right ingredients, but the pinch of disappointment is all I can taste.
Michael Banks is in a spot of trouble. His wife died a year ago, leaving him in charge of the house and the kids. All are neglected. His adorable children aren’t just raising themselves, they’re taking care of him too. Just about the only thing they can’t do is save the house from foreclosure. Michael and Jane can’t do it either – neither has any money. Where or where are those stock certificates their father left them? They’ve only got a few days to save their family home from the evil banker, Colin Firth. Cue Mary Poppins. Nominally, she’s taking care of the children, but I think her main ambition is just to allow them to be children again. And ideally, force Michael to act like the father again. So that’s the plot, and then we continually interrupt the plot to do some wild Mary Poppins shenanigans. The dancy, singy, cartoony musical numbers are incredible, or they would be if the songs weren’t so negligible, but they grind the plot to a halt and don’t relate to the rest of the movie at all. It’s not cohesive; I feel like I was watching two different movies, part depression-era family tragedy, part nostalgic stuff and nonsense. There are some wonderful call-backs to the original film, but I feel like Mary Poppins returns relies too heavily on its predecessor and our forgiveness. I wanted so badly to be carried away by this, but I remained firmly in my seat, butt against leather, popcorn in the cracks (of the recliner, not my ass). Translation: perfectly ordinary in every way.