Disney’s ambitious Mary Poppins Returns is soon to hit theaters and fans are abuzz with excitement. For a generation that grew up with the original, it’s a chance to revisit a childhood favorite with a fresh pair of eyes. For a younger generation, it’s a chance to be introduced to the whimsical world of Mary Poppins and her magic carpetbag.
The sequel (or remakequel, your call) is set a few decades after the original during the Great Depression of London. A grown-up Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw) still lives in his childhood home, now with his three children, Anabel (Pixie Davies), John (Nathanael Saleh), and Georgie (Joel Dawson). Their aunt, Jane Banks (Emily Mortimer), lives a short distance away but is often at 17 Cherry Tree Lane to help provide some stability for Michael and the kids. After the recent death of his wife, Michael is struggling. His part-time job as a banker isn’t bringing in nearly enough income and soon, their house is in foreclosure. When all seems lost for the Banks family, Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) reappears. With the help of lamplighter, Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda), Mary Poppins sets out to restore hope to the Bankses while thwarting the schemes of the greedy bank president, Wilkins (Colin Firth).
If delightful song and dance is your cup o’ tea – and even if it’s not – read on for three reasons why Mary Poppins Returns is a great time at the movies.
1. Emily Blunt Makes Mary Poppins Her Own
Stepping into a role made iconic by another actor is daunting. Some fans want to see you do something completely different while others want exactly what’s come before – and no one can ever live up to the original. When she was cast as Mary Poppins, Emily Blunt realized that she was never going to please everyone and there was no way she’d ever be Julie Andrews, so she decided she’d just make the role of Mary Poppins her own.
Make it her own, she does. With the new iteration of Mary Poppins, Blunt plays the magical nanny a little closer to the books than Andrews. In the novels, Mary Poppins is a complicated character, sometimes prickly, and Blunt brings that to the screen. Though she has deep compassion for the Banks children, Blunt’s magical nanny is less sugar-coated than the 1964 version. She’s a little cockier, a little snarkier, and a lot more flirty – if you’re a fan of Doctor Who, she’s not unlike the last few iterations of Time Lords; she has that same swagger. It may not be the Mary Poppins that audiences are expecting, but it’s a Mary Poppins different enough from Julie Andrews’ version to carve herself a separate niche in Disney movie history.
2. Lin-Manuel Miranda Goes Full ‘Hamilton’
Look, when you have Lin-Manuel Miranda in your movie musical, you utilize his strengths. To his credit, director Rob Marshall turned the song-and-dance man loose and let him do his thing. The result is that Mary Poppins Returns is a little more Broadway at times than modern theatrical musical. The effervescent joy Miranda brings to the role of Jack, however, helps you overlook the occasional oddly-staged scene where lamplighters do BMX tricks on obviously camouflaged bike ramps.
While the innocence of Jack is a far cry from the ambition of Alexander Hamilton, that’s not to say there weren’t shades of Hamilton threaded throughout Mary Poppins Returns. Indeed, Miranda is allowed to go full Hamilton at one point, rapping part of a surprisingly bawdy song with Mary Poppins (don’t worry; the song is delightful and fast-paced enough the words will go over young kids’ heads). This is, after all, a Mary Poppins of 2018 and music for an entirely new generation; one growing up at a time where Lin-Manuel’s work on Broadway has transcended to become part of the general pop culture consciousness. Allowing him to bring a bit of that magic into the magic of Mary Poppins was a lovely wink-and-nod fans of his are sure to appreciate.
3. The Wacky, Whimsical, Wonderland Visuals
The stories of Mary Poppins, at their heart, are all about embracing that childhood wonder that most of us tend to lose as we get older. A child’s imagination is the strongest, most vivid means of creation in existence, and the design of Mary Poppins Returns needed to reflect that. To that end, it succeeded. The movie creates some truly beautiful vehicles for its songs, from playing under the sea with dolphins to a world that unfolds inside a china bowl. Each song that takes place in a make-believe world is accompanied by a distinct visual sequence that looks completely different than the one that came before. It’s a staggering accomplishment of production design and art direction that the effects don’t feel cookie cutter, partly because so much of it was practical. Rather than detracting from the music, the set design serves to enhance it, with the tunes complementing the visuals and vice versa. It is, quite simply, an exquisitely beautiful movie.
Overall, Mary Poppins Returns might be getting dinged by a handful of critics, but critics aren’t kids (or parents looking for a movie to enjoy with their kids), and kids will easily embrace the music and the fun. It’s a movie that requires you to check your adult cynicism at the door, but if you can do that, you’ll find it’s as delightful as can be.
Mary Poppins Returns is in theaters on December 19th. You can buy your tickets here.
(Header image: Walt Disney Studios)
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