So my family finally got around to watching the new Mary Poppins movie and I want to give my thoughts on it. Anyone who’s read my blog long enough, knows that I have no love for the first Mary Poppins. It’s one of my two least favorite Disney classics for a plethora of reasons ranging from the history behind the film, the bastardization of books that were beloved to their writer, the horrible characters, and some of the more depressing scenes in the story. Yes, I am the 1% of people who hate the original Mary Poppins.
So when my wife puts on this movie for our weekly family movie night, my first reaction was to roll my eyes. One, this movie got what amounts to a C+ rating from critics and movie-goers, some loved it, some hated it. Two, this is yet another Disney sequel, likely a holdover from the Isner years that had little story and even less budget. Third, it’s a sequel to a story I have little tolerance for. So I resigned myself to 2+ hours of torture.
What I got… was not at all what I thought I was getting.
The story is set some 30+ years after the first movie. Mr. and Mrs. Banks have likely passed away, Bert is nowhere to be found (though it is mentioned that he’s travelling the globe), and Michael is now a widower with three children and is struggling to keep their home. Jane shows up regularly as well, living in a flat on the other side of town. Michael is desperately trying to find a bank share that would pay off his house before the bank forecloses on it and… that’s where I’ll leave the plot. I really don’t want to spoil anything.
It is at this point Mary Poppins shows up and yes, in an unexpected twist, Jane and Michael actually remember her, though their memory on her magical abilities are somewhat questionable.
Because Mary Poppins is an ageless, magical, character, obviously Julie Andrews wouldn’t have worked here without extensive de-aging. Plus the fact that her vocal chords were damaged by nodule removal, made her a non-choice. Enter Emily Blunt. At first, I wasn’t sure about her, but if you’ve read any of the books… she actually fits the character better than Andrews IMHO. Andrews came off as a sweet person, but her character while kind, is supposed to be very firm. I never got that from Andrews, despite her best efforts. With Blunt, I get that. She has scenes where she comes off as stern, dignified, and not afraid to tell her ’employer’ how it is. She keeps her kindness guarded, but certainly let’s it show when needed. This, to me, is a more realistic representation of what a nanny would have been like at that time period… or at least one that children would not have run from. While she didn’t really resemble Andrews all that much, I found myself accepting her as Mary Poppins quite easily. Blunt’s performance really brought something to the performance that was quite welcome.
The musical numbers were done quite well. I honestly found myself afflicted by a tinge of nostalgia. Modern musicals, including Disney, haven’t really done so well. Despite the efforts of movies like La La Land, they just really fail to capture the whimsy of the musicals from the 50s-60s. Mary Poppins Returns somehow manages to revive the old Musical whimsy I thought long dead.
It was also great to see Disney give a nod to their old ways by going back to their old-school form of animation. They could have easily pulled a James and the Giant Peach and gone full CGI with ugly characters or tried to do something with Pixar, but they didn’t They took special care to make the animated scenes look like the ones we loved from movies like 101 Dalmatians, Robin Hood, The Little Mermaid, and Beauty and the Beast. It was a welcome nod to the past that could have easily just been ignored.
I was actually quite surprised to see David Warner now playing the Banks’s next door neighbors, still sailing around on his rooftop ship. He’s been noticeably absent from the movie scene for years. As a fan of his work in Hansel and Gretel, Star Trek 5 and 6, Ninja Turtles 2, and Wing Commander, I was happy to see him back in a supporting role.
Cast members from the original made appearances in the film in small places where they could. Dick Van Dyke appearing at the end and performing a dance number made me smile widely. I admittedly didn’t like him in the previous Mary Poppins, but I was a big fan of his in other movies, including Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
Noticeably absent from the film was the original Mary Poppins, Julie Andrews. According to information I was able to find, the studio tried hard to get her into the film via cameo, but she declined out of respect to Emily Blunt. While I applaud the goodwill and can certainly respect that, I was honestly disappointed by the missed opportunity for Julie Andrews to give the film an endorsement and a kind of passing of the torch.
Instead, that job was given to another of Disney’s original darlings… Angela Lansbury. I won’t give away the part she played, but it’s actually quite appropriate and I loved hearing her sing for the first time in quite a while. I grew up with Lansbury playing Ms. Price in Bedknobs and Broomsticks, which is still one of my favorite Disney live musical movies to this day!
One criticism I read on another blog was a criticism noting the absence of Mr. Banks. The argument was that he was such a major character, that his noticeable absence from the film was a big detraction. On some level, I would agree with that, however… Mark Tomlinson, another Disney staple and the original Mr. Banks, sadly passed away in 2000 at the age of 83 from a stroke and he had been retired for 18 years prior. While people accepted Emily Blunt as Mary Poppins, I doubt they would have accepted someone else as Mr. Banks. Even Blunt was a bit of a risk for Disney.
So honestly, at the end of the day, Mary Poppins Returns is much better than it has a any right to be. Given my feelings about the first movie, Disney’s history of low budget cash-in sequels that all but ruined the original films, and some of Disney’s lack luster storytelling in their original movies as of late… my expectations could not have been lower. Needless to say, even if they hadn’t been, this film still would have gotten high marks. I actually loved this a lot more than the original movie and found myself smiling through it as my kids enjoyed it. Yes, mine and my parent’s generation’s Mary Poppins wasn’t great, but the one my kids will now call theirs more than makes up for it.
This is a great movie that should be viewed by everyone who loved Disney as a child, whether you liked the original or not.
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