How Does Mary Poppins Returns Measure Up?
By: Natalie Atkins
This week I had the opportunity to see an advanced screening of the new Mary Poppins Returns. I would consider myself not only a Superfan, but I have had the pleasure of studying and performing the Mary Poppins character professionally for quite a few years. I wanted to do my best to see the movie with no expectations, but then again my love, knowledge and experience with these characters allows me to see this movie in a way many would not.
When the Walt Disney Company announced they would release Mary Poppins Returns starring Emily Blunt as the world famous Mary Poppins… Only Mary herself could respond to my reaction! “Close your mouth please Natalie, you are not a Codfish!” My first thought was of course was… How will this new movie “Measure Up”? Amidst my apprehension, I heard Mary Poppins’ very wise words came floating back into my head… “Never judge things by their appearance, I’m sure I never do!”
Beyond a doubt I can say this movie made me feel like a kid again! The first time Cherry Tree Lane came across the big screen, I got chills and reverted to a 5 year old version of myself staring wide eyed at the familiar scene. When walking out of the theatre I left feeling a love for Mary Poppins all over again. I would say Mary Poppins Returns, is a love letter to the original movie, while being its own work of art. Would you believe me if I told you, I both liked and disliked Mary Poppins Returns.
The story takes place 25 years after the original ends, with Michael Banks an artist turned bank teller and his 3 children living at the beloved 17 Cherry Tree Lane. Jane Banks living across town following in her mother’s footsteps trying to change the world for the better! Jane and Michael have grown up into being very similar to their parents and have become wrapped up in grown up matters. There is no time for imagination, jokes, magic or the possibility of the impossible. Michaels children, who are close in age to the last time we saw the Banks children, have been forced to grow up a little faster than usual and take on some responsibilities to help out their father.
Mary Poppins Returns continues to tell the story of the Banks children both young and old, having wonderful nostalgic references to the original while going on adventures of its very own. Though, it feels like somehow we ended up on the wrong side of Mary’s magical mirror, where her mirror image is just a little bit ‘off’ from the real thing. Please do not misunderstand me, the adventures we go on in Mary Poppins Returns are beautiful musical numbers that seem like they would fit in seamlessly with the original, teaching very good lessons to all! However, the rules of these adventures have changed just enough that something seems out of place, though everything appears to be right where it should be. For example, I felt it was out of place, when we saw characters from the ‘real world’ in the bathtub adventure that did not go on this adventure with Mary and the children. Or the foretelling of the mean banker with the pocket watch trying to steal from the children in the china bowl circus adventure. Or outright flying in the park while holding a balloon sting in the real world with no nudging from Mary Poppins. I would argue, that changing the basic rules of Mary’s Adventures between movies, would be like altering the rules of time travel between the Back To The Future Movies. Somehow you end up in an alternate plane that looks and sounds the same but isn’t the same.
Almost every character, musical number or fantastical adventure from the original movie had an equivalent counterpart in the new film. Instead of jumping into a chalk pavement picture we found ourselves in a china bowl world. Uncle Albert’s visit was replaced by going to see Aunt Topsy, where we still somehow end up on the ceiling. We went on adventures with Jack, Bert’s protege. And we got to dance on the rooftops with lamp lighters instead of chimney sweeps. Though there is a little more suspense in the scene surrounding Big Ben, then we ever had in the original! In the end everything ends up okay and Mary Poppins is no longer needed at the Banks house.
Emily Blunt did a wonderful job of portraying Mary. She was poised yet cheeky, had the one liners that we are going to love to quote, and she taught everyone some more valuable lessons.
Lin Manuel Miranda was fantastic as Jack. And it was really nice to see 2 familiar faces back in the Mary Poppins world. Both Karen Dotrice who originally played Jane Banks and Dick Van Dyke who originally played Bert and Mr. Dawes Senior came back and had small roles in the new film. The film did feel a bit unfinished without even a small cameo from Julie Andrews, who reportedly turned down a roll in the film to let it be “Emily’s show”. Though Angela Lansbury did a great job as the Balloon Lady, I can not help but wonder if that was the role intended for Julie Andrews. It really would have been the last bit of magic I needed as an audience member to believe the last scene of the movie could really be possible without Mary Poppins’ assistance.
When Mary Poppins first came into our lives she allowed the children to be children and reminded the adults to not take themselves too seriously. We all know a man with a wooden leg named Smith! In Mary Poppins Returns, Mary not only encourages the children act like children. But this time Mary Poppins has come back to remind the adults both in the film and in the audience, that we can not lose site of those childlike qualities of imagination, magic and believing in the impossible that we all had as kids. But that’s just what I think! And as Mary says at the end of the movie, “Some people think a great deal too much, Of that I am certain!”