When I was nine my older brother took me to see a film called That’s Entertainment! I had no idea what I was about to see and freely admit that I went begrudgingly. However after the lights went down and the movie started I sat with my jaw on my knees for two hours as I was introduced to the magic of the old MGM musicals.
When we walked out of the theater I noticed the movie poster for That’s Entertainment! featured the tagline of “Boy. Do we need it now.” At the time I didn’t understand what that meant. It was only later that I realized that in 1974 our country was in the grips of social turmoil unrest in our cities, the Watergate scandal, the first-ever resignation of a U.S. president, the Vietnam War, etc.
Now, jump forward 39 years. I had an experience recently that reminded me of that tagline once again and a special brand of movie escapism.
About a month ago, for two hours and forty minutes, I sat delighted in Hollywood’s iconic Chinese Theater, chuckling with laughter, filled with empathy and eventually moved to tears by a nearly 50 year-old film that reminded those in attendance what Hollywood filmmaking is like at its finest. The movie was Mary Poppins.
It was beyond refreshing to experience a film with my wife and daughter and not have to worry that graphic violence, crude humor; bad language or inappropriate references to modern pop culture were going to pop up and ruin the moment. We were thoroughly transported to another place.
After the movie was over, as we were walking with friends to dinner, I was thinking that not unlike how Singin’ in the Rain is emblematic of the best of the MGM musicals, Mary Poppins is representative of similar gems in Walt Disney’s live-action film library that deserve re-discovery.
When you see certain vintage live-action films that begin with the opening slate of “Walt Disney Presents” what that slate is saying is, “Here we go, you’re about to be entertained, amused, charmed, maybe beguiled by songs, plus possibly shed a tear.” Will the film be “corny” by today’s standards? Perhaps. But aren’t most classic films we cherish?
Films like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Pollyanna, The Parent Trap, Old Yeller, Treasure Island, Summer Magic, Those Calloways, Babes in Toyland, Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier, The Absent-Minded Professor and Follow Me Boys! and numerous others, enrich audiences with several of the same qualities found in Poppins.
The live-action films of Walt Disney provide a moment in time where audiences can be re-charged (and enriched) with ample doses of refreshing optimism and goodwill, most always re-enforced with timeless life-lessons, gentle humor, charm and memorable music. Some people may call these attributes “old fashioned” but don’t you think the world could use more doses of “old fashioned” right now?
Confronted with a current pop entertainment landscape filled with imbecilic reality television, zombie invasions, graphic crime scene investigations (insert any big city name here), mean-spirited judges and chefs and opinionated newsmakers it’s reassuring to be reminded of, and experience, the cinematic jewels to be found in Walt Disney’s live-action film library. To paraphrase a tagline, “Boy, can we use them now.”