This summer’s multi-million dollar productions offer great entertainment—and plenty to think about, too.
Ralph Breaks The Internet
Wreck It Ralph was always going to be a hard act to follow. The star role handed to Vanellope, a disabled cartoon character, was a welcome boost to many families. The good news is that Ralph Breaks The Internet is as fresh as the first, and has another unorthodox lesson to teach kids and adults alike.
Ralph Breaks The Internet picks up six years after the first story. Ralph, the titular hero with a talent for smashing things, is revelling in his friendship with racer Vanellope.
When her arcade game gets busted, they must venture through the door labelled ‘Wi Fi’ to secure the Internet’s only available spare part. Travelling the information superhighway together allows for the pair to interact with a hilarious series of Internet memes—look out for the Disney Princesses!—but the most valuable lesson comes when the opportunities presented threaten to pull them apart.
Ralph’s focus is getting things back the way they were before. However, his determination to keep things the same is a dependency that leads to destructive behaviour. Ralph believes he’s acting for Vanellope’s own good, but his frustrating behaviour forces her to tell him, “It’s not right to hold a friend back from her dreams!”
Jesus would have easily diagnosed Ralph’s problem as not being prepared to ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’. True friends help their companions achieve their goals, as though they were their own.
In fact, it’s this sacrificial serving of each other’s interests that actually builds a relationship. These are awesome lessons for kids to learn, and underneath the whole story lies the additional Gospel truth that even in our best situations we continue to mess up.
Mary Poppins Returns
Mary Poppins Returns is set 20 years after the original storyline, during which the magical nanny descended from the skies to help the stressed Banks family. Two decades on, Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw) is a single parent struggling to hold on to the family home. Michael’s wife had died a year earlier, and he is striving to hold his three young children close as the bank threatens to foreclose.
They are trying to find a missing shares certificate that will solve their financial worries. However, their loan’s looming deadline threatens to destroy their happiness—until Mary Poppins arrives to restore the balance with her strict sense of nonsense.
Emily Blunt is captivating as P.L. Travers’ legendary character, but it’s hard not to feel as though director Rob Marshall has skipped over ‘tribute’ to produce a photocopy of the original film. Much of the cast are mimicries of earlier characters. Dick Van Dyke’s singing chimney sweep is replaced by Lin-Manuel Miranda’s lyrical lamplighter; Jane Darwell’s ‘Bird Woman’ is transformed into Angela Lansbury’s ‘Balloon Lady’.
Mary Poppins Returns is unceasingly optimistic in its outlook (which is encouraging), but sometimes to the point of glossing over sad and serious issues (which is not). Mary Poppins teaches the children that the best things are never really lost, and Michael’s youngest boy brightly reminds his father that this applies to his deceased wife as well. “Of course, you’re right!” he replies, instantly cheered. “Your mother’s not gone. She’s in your smile, Georgie.”
If there’s one part of the Gospel that you can rely on Mary Poppins to get right, though, it’s our tendency to get sidetracked by life’s cares and concerns, at the expense of the truly important things. Lamplighter Jack might spend the film pointing to Mary Poppins, but at least he gets it right when he says the best we can hope for is “blessings from up above”.
Vice is a stunning political drama that follows in the footsteps of Primary Colours for its audacity, and Syriana for its staggering connection to the truth. This is the story of the rise to power of Dick Cheney, America’s most powerful Vice President.
The story picks up in 2000, during George W. Bush’s race for the White House. Bush (Sam Rockwell) surprises analysts by selecting consummate Washington insider Dick Cheney (Christian Bale) as his running mate, the man currently heading his search committee for a Vice President.
The particular ‘vice’ at the heart of Vice is Cheney’s unquenchable desire for power. The more he accumulates, the more ruthless he becomes. He is pictured as regularly providing the last word that shapes the policies of a gullible president, and his influence is regularly put at the service of big business.
His eventual soft exit from the story might suggest, as some have feared, that God does not take into account their actions. You and I might leave the cinema wondering that Cheney could get away with it all, but the fact that Vice exists as a film suggests something else. Even Hollywood recognises that our secret actions will one day become known, and we will have to bear the consequences.
So, when the lights come up these holidays, what are we left with? The Gospel in glorious technicolour. Ralph teaches us we’re capable of wrecking even the best situations; Mary Poppins reminds us we need help; yet if we don’t learn the lessons inherent in Vice, we’re certain to face the outcome. It’s not exactly how the Bible puts it, but the pieces are there if you know where to look.