Set about 30 years after Poppins’ first visit with the Banks family, Mary Poppins Returns is another spoon full of sugar for a dark time in the Banks home. Michael (Ben Whishaw) is recently widowed with three young children, the family home and financial woes. His sister, Jane (Emily Mortimer) is an activist, much like their mother before her. And the three children, John, Anabel and Georgie, have had to grow up quickly since the loss of their mother. One day, as little Georgie is nearly carried off by a familiar kite, Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) blows in to help and change their lives.
I always carry my doubts with sequels, but here they were quickly blown away and I was happily engrossed in this sweet, magical film. The musical numbers were wonderful, catchy and best of all the lyrics move the story forward and teach lessons. The animated sequence, which is some of the first hand drawn animation out of Disney in years, was so well done, both in overall tone and visual technique and style. And Lin-Manuel Miranda is a great replacement/counterpart for Dick Van Dyke (who does make an appearance). There’s an immeasurable amount of pressure to create a deserving sequel to Mary Poppins over fifty years later and the filmmakers here really stepped up to the plate and delivered something to be cherished for generations.
There’s so much to compare and contrast between this film and the original, I only have time to scrape the surface here. I’d say the situation within the Banks house this time is darker, sadder and is in even more need of Poppins than ever. And by contrast, the film is visually more striking and imaginative than before, mostly thanks to half a century of technological advances. Instead of introducing the kids to magic by cleaning up the playroom with a snap, they take a literal dive into their bathtub and go on a musical undersea adventure. Instead of jumping into a chalk drawing, they go into their mother’s beloved China bowl. Rather than visiting uncle Albert and having a tea party on the ceiling, they visit Cousin Topsy (Meryl Streep) and learn about seeing things from a new perspective. And instead of a friendly chimney sweep, Jack (Miranda) is a leerie And we meet plenty of his friends armed with bikes and ladders.
This is the perfect film to see with children, however I’d suggest showing them the original beforehand. My four year old son loved this movie and it kept his attention better than the original. The musical numbers were spaced out well to keep kids interested but not overstimulated. Sure, some of the more somber moments didn’t land with him as they did with me, but that’s to be expected. Children are more resilient than we think, whereas I was a silently weeping as Poppins sang The Place Where Lost Things Go to the children when they woke from a collective nightmare.
Sadly, The Academy didn’t give Mary Poppins Returns as much praise as I would have. The film was only nominated for four awards: production design, costume design, original score and original song (The Place Where Lost Things Go). While I was disappointed that Mary Poppins was not nominated for best picture, I can understand why. It’s a movie made with children and families in mind, which I think doesn’t catch They Academy’s attention as well. It isn’t a reflection of our time, which is something most of the nominees have going for them. And while I loved it, I can understand how this sequel can never live up to the wonderful original for some people.
A film as magical, endearing and yet grounding as Mary Poppins Returns is a rare treat. Maybe Poppins films can only come around every 50 years. It’s sweet, but not overly so. It’s uplifting and yet reminds us that the grown ups will forget all about the magic by tomorrow. Best of all, it reminds us about the magic we knew in childhood that gets pushed aside throughout life. It ignites that inside us and lifts us up, if only for a while. My kid described it best on the car ride home, “That was like real magic!” It sure was, kid.
“We’re on the brink of adventure, children. Don’t spoil it with too many questions.”