Released: 1st Janurary
Seen: 3rd January
In 1964, the world was enchanted when a nanny flew in from high upon her cloud to the door of 17 Cherry Tree Lane and graced us all with her charm and wit. Mary Poppins remains one of the few movies that you can justifiably say “Everyone loves this one”. If you meet someone who doesn’t love Mary Poppins, I suggest running as fast as you can away from them because there is no time to be dealing with such nonsense. Mary Poppins is a movie that the main character herself might describe as “Practically perfect in every way”, which would possibly be the most accurate statement ever made… so, naturally, 54 years later is the perfect time to release a sequel to this beloved classic.
Mary Poppins Returns continues following the Banks children, now fully grown adults, who are having a rough go of things during “The great slump”. Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw) is trying to deal with the loss of his wife, because this is a Disney film and anyone who is a mother must die promptly before the first frame of film is shown. He also works as a part time banker at Fidelity Fiduciary Bank where tuppence blooms into credit of a generous amount, semi-annually. His sister Jane (Emily Mortimer) has clearly taken after her mother (ALSO DEAD) and is working as a labour organizer to get the workers greater wages. Sadly she does not get a song as amazing as “Sister Suffragette”, but we’ll get to that soon. Anyway, it turns out that Michael took out a loan with the very bank that he works at and they have decided to finally come and collect on their payment by taking the house. Stressed, worried and at the end of his rope, Michael needs help and that’s just when Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) gets herself caught on the end of a kite (Yes, THAT kite) and comes to help the children.
Doing a sequel to one of the greatest and most beloved films that has ever existed is not a task that should be taken up lightly because the chances are high that it’s going to suck. Some film classics just shouldn’t be revisited at all because they were already perfect and therefore you should not even bother. But they bothered and to be honest… they did pretty well. This is not suggesting that this film is as good as the original, I dare say that such a feat would be impossible to achieve because the original Mary Poppins not only had the incomparable Julie Andrews as lead, but the most lovable Dick Van Dyke performance to go with it. Sidebar, enough about Dick Van Dyke’s accent. We’ve been talking on and off about this for years and probably will for a while more now because Lin-Manuel Miranda is obviously copying it in this film and let me just point out that if you’re looking for accent accuracy in a film with dancing cartoon penguins, you’re in the wrong movie.
The point that I’m dancing around is that the original is so magical that the only way to even come close to it is to take what the original did and tweak it enough so that it’s not identical, but close to it. Going through the film, all the major beats from the original are there from a scene where the main characters are in an animated world to Mary singing a lullaby to the children, the run on the bank, going to a house where everything’s topsy-turvy, an entire dance sequence made up of cockney low-class workers, I could go on but I’d rather not. Every major scene from the original movie appears here in some form or another and normally that would be a bad thing… but it’s Mary Poppins, so I don’t care. I wanted more Mary Poppins, I got more Mary Poppins and it was a lot of good Mary Poppins.
Critically you could absolutely go over this with a fine-toothed comb and point out everything that they stole from the original because there’s a considerable amount, but it all still works. It’s all just charming. It’s impossible not to feel a smile creep over your face when the cast is belting out The Royal Doulton Music Hall, an obvious stand in for Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. You can’t help but giggle along during Turning Turtle, clearly this films variation on Love to Laugh. Almost every major song from the original is copied here with the exception of Sister Suffragette which is truly a shame because I’d have loved to have seen Disney, of all companies, do a song about how amazing labour unions are for the workers. Just would’ve been funny to see them try to pull that off with a straight face.
The highlight of this film is the same from the last film. Trip A Little Light Fantastic is so clearly trying to be Chim Chim Cher-ee that you could have just put this song under the original footage and it’d fit perfectly. I could genuinely do this all day with every single plot point and every character. The man running the bank is Weatherhall Wilkins (Colin Firth) who looks exactly like the father from the original. The Balloon Lady (Angela Lansbury) is obviously taking the same spot that the “Feed the Birds” lady had in the original film (Yes, I know the balloon lady is in the books but in the structure of this film, the birds became balloons). You could do all that, you could go through and call this film out for being unoriginal and repetitive… but then you’d be intentionally missing out on the charm and the whimsy, the heart of the original film is still here and it’s just as bright as it was back then. This film is a photocopy of the original, but it’s still a really good copy that has everything that one could ask for.
No one is going to call this film better than the original, it can’t be by virtue of the fact that it’s not the original film. Mary Poppins Returns is simply a little bit more Mary Poppins and every second we get to spend with that glorious nanny is worth every bit of repetition that we might have to go through to get it. It’s joyful, it’s nostalgic and it’s the exact kind of film you should take your family to so you can all trip a little light fantastic.