If you’d like my review in very shortened form, it is this – Mary Poppins Returns was a visual delight, I cried several times, and left the theater full of hope, joy, and love. Now, let’s dive in to the long version…
I have a problem. I love (most) all things Disney, but at the same time, I can be pretty critical (not necessarily publicly) about choices they may make either with the parks or movies etc. but it’s still Disney, it’s still a theme park, it’s still a movie. And I love those things. So I was a little worried about Mary Poppins Returns, because I LOVE Mary Poppins (and yes, I realize I am not unique in that love, it’s pretty universally well-loved and adored) and was worried about tampering with that practical-perfection. But as already stated, I loved it.
I am not going to post huge spoilers in my review below, but I am going to cover the already-revealed-in-trailers portions of the film, and a few other topics, and the movie’s out now, so go see it and then come back and discuss with me! Now, let’s begin!
A Love Letter to the Original Story
What I love about Mary Poppins, the original film, is that in 2018, it is not just a classic family movie. It is a time capsule of Walt Disney Company history. We hardcore Disney fans know all about the history of making that movie. The involvement and disapproval of P.L. Travers, Walt’s personal connection to the books with his daughters, and the fact that it was made during the golden age of the Walt Disney Studios, with some of the best players and names of the time. So when I watch Mary Poppins, I don’t just watch that story and hear those songs, I think about the Sherman Brothers composing the theme songs to our lives. I think about how people didn’t think Dick Van Dyke could do a Cockney accent, but he became one of the most beloved names in Disney history because of this film. I think about Walt strolling through the studio and watching it all unfold and adding his own touches to the story. I think about how I sang these songs to my children when they were babies, and how I have friends that do the same.
Adding to this story would be like saying, I know It’s a Wonderful Life ended perfectly, but what if we went back 20 years later when George and Mary Bailey were both dead and their kids are not doing so well…It definitely would be a story, but should it be told? That’s what I was worried about with Mary Poppins Returns. And honestly, I’m still not sure it needed to been done, but we could say that about most things these days. The way I came to terms with it is: you just have to know that the original existed, and leave it at the door. Mary Poppins Returns, while technically a sequel, is really more of an homage to the original, a love letter, a beautifully hand-written thank you card.
From the very first scene to the last, we are treated to an updated tribute to the original Mary Poppins. Both movies open with Bert/Jack setting the scene, followed in the original by Peter Ellenshaw matte paintings, and in Mary Poppins Returns, Ellenshaw-esque paintings to accompany the overture, giving us a hint as to what we are about to enjoy. The similarities don’t end there, with each song or story point almost mirroring the original, sometimes expanding and updating our Mary and how she would act.
Not My Mary!
At first I took some issue with this, as I thought “Mary Poppins would never sing about someone being “on the sauce” or dance that way!” But then I had time to reflect on it and came to this conclusion (whether it lines up with the intent is up to Rob Marshall I guess!): Mary Poppins is timeless, ageless. She’s always been elegant, yet could hang with the chimney sweeps as if they were kings. So when she returns, 20-some years later in the middle of “The Great Slump” or Great Depression, she isn’t the same Mary that appeared in Michael and Jane Banks’ nursery. She is a modern nanny equipped with modern clothes, mannerisms, and a catalog of songs and dances in keeping with the timeline in which she appears. So of course she is going to a music hall and able to sing in a variety act-like comedic-song-and-dance. It all made sense to me when I thought of it that way.
In addition, something that struck me the second time I saw the film before finishing up this review was how Mary Poppins herself was acutely aware of the passage of time, nostalgia, and how things may disappear, but are never really gone.
During the song “The Place Where Lost Things Go,” there were several times when Mary looked around the nursery or touched an original toy from when Jane and Michael slept there, and looked wistfully as if she realized that this song she was singing to comfort the children at the loss of their mother, was also a comfort to her, at the loss of the original Banks’ children being children. She has this look many other times throughout the film, when Michael says something particularly adult-like, or sounds like his father, seemingly missing or wishing he would remember the lessons she taught so long ago.
Emily Blunt is a marvelous Mary, and she could tell a story of a thousand words with just one look – I loved her. She sang beautifully as well, making repeat listens of the soundtrack something that will definitely happen.
Speaking of Music…
I really loved almost all of the songs from the movie. I found Michael’s melancholy song in the beginning to be one of the sweetest and most emotional, and of course when the children sang the Lost Things song back to him, it was a definite tear-jerker. One of the best decisions however, is how the orchestral parts in between scenes or songs are nods back to the original score and the Sherman Brothers classics we all know and love. Make sure you take note of that while watching, it really is lovely.
Again, when I first saw it, my initial reaction to some songs were, “oh, they’re just trying to make this be the ‘Step in Time’ of the movie!” and later, when I had my moments of realization and it all made sense, I thought, “Oh! They’re making this be the ‘Step in Time’ of the movie!” and I appreciated it all the more.
The only song I wasn’t super into is the only scene I wasn’t super into, which was the Meryl Streep/Cousin Topsy “Turning Turtle” song. I get that that was the “Ed Wynn” moment of the film, but it just seemed out of place and forced a bit. But they all learned a lesson, so that was good at least.
The over-the-top numbers were all perfectly over the top as they should be and grand and fun to watch and listen to. The slower songs served their purpose too and overall everything flowed together nicely (except “Turning Turtle“ :P)
It’s Today or Never, I Always Say
Much like the original Mary Poppins, this movie is chock-full of Mary-isms that will have you smiling and remembering what’s truly important in life; having fun, using your imagination, remembering that everything is possible, and to sit up straight because we are not sacks of flour!
I love the dynamic of Mary and the children in this film, because much like the original Banks children felt they didn’t need a nanny, these three have proven that they don’t, as you see right from the start they’ve been taking care of themselves and the family. But as Mary reminds them, they are children, they can have fun and still help the family.
One of the things even my 10 year old noticed when we saw the preview screening back in November, was that there are villains in this movie. And while we could say that in the original, the bank and even to an extent Father was a villain, in Mary Poppins Returns, there is a scene where the children are literally in danger from the villains of the film. Of course we are then left to wonder if it was real or just a dream, but the villains are there nonetheless. I think, much like Mary growing with the times, the storyline itself grew with it as well. Times were tough during The Great Slump, and it affected the Banks family in more ways than one. Their biggest problem wasn’t cleaning their rooms, but the fact that they lost their mother and were about to lose their house. Not exactly kids stuff. But Mary guides them through (the older Banks children too), and of course they are all the better for it.
I’m sure there are a million things I’m forgetting to say that I wanted to discuss, but that’s what edit buttons are for, right? Overall, I loved this film, even more the second time I saw it, as I thought I might. It is truly a feast for the eyes, ears and heart. I cried many times, but not because it was all sad (it was in places), but mostly because of the great nostalgia it stirred within me. I wasn’t born when Mary Poppins came out, and I don’t even remember when I first saw it, but over the years, it became a well-loved favorite and as mentioned at the start, a huge part of Walt Disney company history. Just seeing Dick Van Dyke on screen filled me with joy, as did Angela Lansbury. Ms. Lansbury was not in the original Mary Poppins of course, but was in Bedknobs and Broomsticks with David Tomlinson, and she is a Disney Legend. Seeing these two icons on screen was truly a gift to us all, as is Mary Poppins Returns.
Mary Poppins Returns is now open in theaters everywhere – go see it! I was invited to a pre-screening by the Walt Disney Company, but as always, my opinions and thoughts are my own.
Have you seen Mary Poppins Returns? What did you think? What was your favorite part and your favorite song?