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Is the Hollywood Tide Turning at Last?

By Walker Joyce

Picking up where we left off, bemoaning the recent domination of anti-heroes, there is suddenly hope that admirable characters may be back in style.

I closed the last column wondering when somebody like Sylvester Stallone might buck the trend, as he did in the 1970’s with “Rocky Balboa.” Soon after we went to press, Creed II premiered. It was a rousing follow-up to the 2015 movie that advanced the Rocky saga with a second-generation character, including a supporting role for Stallone’s original underdog.

Like its predecessor(s), Creed II is an adrenalin-pumping action flick set in the world of heavyweight boxing. The title character must overcome adversity to achieve his goals, and his journey to glory is necessarily formulaic. But creator/co-writer/co-starring Stallone still knows how to push the right buttons.

And now, presumably still in theatres after its Christmastime debut, is one more beloved figure from another era, even bigger and more popular: The World’s Most Wonderful Nanny, “Mary Poppins.”

She first appeared in a series of children’s books begun in the 1930s. But she won her greatest fame through the eponymous movie in 1964, which was a global smash, an instant classic and an Oscar-winner for its star, Julie Andrews.

At the end of the picture, as “Mary” flies away clutching her magic umbrella, Dick Van Dyke as her sidekick “Bert” watches her soar into the clouds and says, “Goodbye Mary Poppins. Don’t stay away too long.”

But as things turned out, it’s taken Fifty Four years to bring her back! In an age when even modest hits earn a sequel, often several, this gap seems ridiculous—especially given how huge the first film was!

But back she is, and in our current cultural landscape, she couldn’t be more welcome. Judging from the various clips and trailers online, Mary’s new adventure just might surpass the original Disney juggernaut.

I was ten years old when the Andrews version premiered. It received almost universal raves and drew standing room only crowds. Cinema-owners couldn’t wait to show it, and it played the largest, most prestigious movie houses in the country.

I first saw it in Plainfield, on one of the last big screens in our area—a venue that wouldn’t survive the riots that would ravage that city (and so many others) just three years later. Talk about an ironic setting…

But those events were unimaginable the evening—a school night to boot! —my family and I watched the movie. Even a boy like me, raised on westerns and WWII war stories, found Mary’s world irresistible. The fantasy sequences, some of them combining animation with the actors, took my breath away, and the musical numbers matched anything I’d ever seen onstage.

I especially loved Ed Wynn’s “I Love to Laugh” tea party, and when Van Dyke launched into “Step in Time,” I decided that being a chimneysweep might be a great career.

How marvelous that ‘ole Dick will appear in the new film, and provide an organic link to the first one.

Emily Blunt is a perfect choice to replace Julie, and I predict Mary’s Return will make a fortune, win a few awards of its own and hopefully compel a sequel—or more!