Home » Years » 2018 » Mary Poppins Returns ••••

Mary Poppins Returns ••••

Starring: Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ben Whishaw
Director: Rob Marshall
Screenplay: David Magee, David Magee
Comedy/Family/Fantasy, Rated: PG
Running Time: 130 minutes
Release Date: December 19, 2018


It only took 55 years, but Mary Poppins finally has her sequel.

(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

I flew a lot of kites waiting for this sequel. Let’s see if it was worth the wait.

It’s 1935 and it’s been 20 years since the Banks children last saw their magical nanny Mary Poppins. A now 30-something old Michael (Ben Whishaw) has three children who he raises alone since his wife passed away a year ago. He is aided by his slightly older sister Jane (Emily Mortimer) and a cook. Michael works as a teller at the same bank his father worked at – and the very same bank that wants to foreclose on his house. Michael and Jane remember that their father put away some certificates of shares in the bank which might pay off the debt – but they can’t find them anywhere.

Enter the magical nanny Mary Poppins, right on cue (Emily Blunt). She somehow senses the need to help transform the Banks family once again. Mary arrives and is heartily welcomed by Jack the lamplighter (Lin-Manuel Miranda) and all the members of the Banks family. She begins by allowing the children to encounter situations that enable them to acquire wisdom about dealing with adversity and doing the seemingly impossible. Meanwhile at the bank, the evil Mr. Wilkins (Colin Firth) is deliberately sabotaging the family’s efforts to find the certificates of shares.

Scott, this incarnation of Mary Poppins is every bit as good as the original. It is filled with set pieces and musical dance numbers that will thrill and delight. In fact, when I watched the original (Mary Poppins, starring Julie Andrews, 1964) version, I was struck by just how similar the two movies are. It’s almost as if the original were used as a template because the number and length and composition of the musical numbers seem to match exactly the 1964 film.

There are some differences, however. Mary Poppins Returns (MPR) is decidedly darker in tone than Mary Poppins. That is, most of the film appears to take place at night or in the rain. Also, Emily Blunt’s interpretation of Mary Poppins is far more dour than Julie Andrews’ version. If I hadn’t seen the original to compare, I might have had to complain about the length of the film and how long the musical numbers went on. In many ways, this was a very simple and short story that was drawn out to over 2 hours by interminable singing and dancing.

So enough with my complaints: Blunt is amazing in the role. She owns Mary Poppins, paying homage to the original without doing a Julie Andrews impersonation. So often when a big star takes on a role you see that actor delivering their lines. But in this case, you see only Mary Poppins. Blunt fades away. Likewise, Lin-Manuel Miranda is just wonderful as a successor to Dick Van Dyke’s Burt. Both actors made the songs and dances look effortless and joyful. And hats off to Blunt who was, as I’ve read, pregnant during the production.

I’d like to take a second to compare this to 2016’s La La Land, which I panned. Both films are beautifully shot and feature an abundance of song and dance routines. But I felt both Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone fell down on the job when it came to the dance. They appeared to have gone to ‘tap bootcamp’ and many of their dancing scenes were very simple,  in silhouette, or shot from the waist up. Not so for Blunt and Miranda. These dance numbers were complicated, beautiful, exquisitely choreographed, and featured an abundance of talented parkour and bmx biking acrobatics. This was not some dialed-in bit. These lead actors can dance.

Also, I thoroughly enjoyed the hand-draw 2-D cartoons which harkened back to the heyday of 1960s Disney animation. It reminded me of the Donald Bluth style that eventually made its way into such films as The Rescuers Down Under and his own The Secret of Nimh.

That’s a very nice summary overview of the film, Greg. I can’t say that this version of Mary Poppins is as good as the first, but it certainly is lively entertainment in the spirit of the original. Mary Poppins Returns once again reminds us how much people are enticed and bewitched by magical beings. It appears that we can’t respect someone’s wisdom unless they possess supernatural powers to back it up. Mary Poppins is the consummate mentor who captivates the imaginations of children with her magic, all the while imparting wisdom such as “losing someone doesn’t mean they’re gone” and “you can do the impossible”.

What makes Mary Poppins’ mentorship especially unique is that she is indirectly saving the children’s father, Mr. Banks. She wises up the kids first, who in turn exert a mentoring effect on their dad. The movie works best this way because it focuses on the fun and enchantment around the children, with songs, bizarre characters, and great adventure. In the end, Mr. Banks is the beneficiary and he uses the children’s new wisdom and inspiration to retain the family home.

I agree that Emily Blunt is a stunning incarnation of Julie Andrews and carries the movie almost effortlessly with her smooth self-confident bearing. Blunt was born for this role. Lin-Manuel Miranda, however, was less than enchanting in Dick Van Dyke’s old role. Yes, Van Dyke drew much-deserved criticism for his over-the-top cockney accent, but Van Dyke’s charisma jumped off the screen in a way that never transpires for Miranda. Special kudos for the superb job done by the three Banks children in this current movie. Anabel (Pixie Davies), John (Nathanael Saleh), and George (Joel Dawson) were phenomenal in their roles here. In addition, Meryl Streep is a fabulous delight in her brief portrayal of Cousin Topsy.

Mary Poppins Returns is a worthy successor to the original. While darker in tone, it is no less entertaining. I wonder if modern audiences, in particular modern children, will find it as enjoyable as children of the 1960s. There are a lot of long-winded song and dance routines that I found less repeatable than originals such as “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.” Looking at popular films of the recent age, I don’t think audiences will sit that long – I know I had trouble. I give Mary Poppins Returns 4 out of 5 Reels.

Mary Poppins as played by Emily Blunt is a break-out role for an actor who has already broken-out. Her portrayal is, if you’ll excuse the reference, “practically perfect in every way.” While Poppins herself does not transform in any serious way, she is a change agent for the children and by proxy for their father. In the end, she must move on to her next adventure, sad in the knowledge that she will likely be forgotten once her magical spell wanes. I give Mary Poppins 5 out of 5 Heroes.

There are only a few archetypes including the MEAN BANKER, HAPPY GO LUCKY SIDEKICK, and HAPLESS FATHER. I give them 3 out of 5 Arcs.

PS: Hats off to the inimitable Dick van Dyke who, at the tender age of 93, can still act, sing, and dance. He’s a rare talent and a true national treasure. I give him 5 out of 5 Special Heroes.

Movie: Archetypes:   Heroes:

Like the original classic from 1964, Mary Poppins Returns is great fun for the entire family. The story is similar to the original and the take-home messages about life are also similar. Yet there are enough refreshing departures and new musical numbers to make Returns a feast for the eyes and for the ears. Seeing 93-year-old Dick Van Dyke sing and dance again is as miraculous as watching Mary Poppins fly with her umbrella. I give this film 4 Reels out of 5.

It’s hard to pinpoint who our heroes are in this story. Mary Poppins is featured in the title and occupies the center of the film’s action and direction, yet this is Mr. Banks’ story of growth and redemption. The children, moreover, are the catalysts of change and assume a heroic role as well. The entire Banks family are under Mary Poppins’ mentoring spell and transform dramatically as all good heroes (and heroic ensembles) do. I give our heroes, whomever they are, 4 Hero points out of 5.

With regard to archetypes, we encounter the archetype of the magical mentor, the wise nanny, children who are wise than their parents, the evil banker, his evil henchmen, and an enlightened henchman who does the right thing at the end in order to save the day. These hero archetypes merit an archetype score of 4 Arcs out of 5.

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:

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