We live in an era of sequels, adaptations, and remakes. Some deplore this era of repeats, but others love the ability to relive the magic over and over. But what of a sequel to a childhood favorite filled with wonders and nostalgic sugar plums dreams? Surely the candy floss can’t still be as saccharine? Mary Poppins Returns is all of those things and more pulling off the wonderment and ingenuity filmmaking tricks can bring to a world where anything is possible.
I’ll start off by saying I’m not much of a fan when it comes to musicals. Singing in the Rain and Moulin Rouge! aside I can’t help but be pulled out of a film when characters are singing what they should be saying. In the case of Mary Poppins however, it makes some sense. She’s a magical woman (who am I kidding; she’s a witch) who can do the impossible. What could ever call for random singing of what you’re doing than a woman who can pull beach umbrellas out of a handbag? The songs in this film are quite nice due to their ability to hold a lesson or tell a story. Lin-Manual Miranda as Jack sings many of the songs, some of which even utilize his rap singing similar to his hit Broadway musical Hamilton. He is quite the singer of course and Emily Blunt (as Mary Poppins, of course) is quite great too. It seems nearly every character gets a chance to sing a bit be it Dick Van Dyke (a banker), Ben Whishaw as the father Michael Banks, and the children too.
I might admit the songs are good, but the real star of the show is the budget and care put into the visuals of this film. It’s so perfectly lit and animated you’ll be whisked into this world and believe every impossible thing that transpires. The visuals also happen to be homages in many ways, be it Emily Blunt pulling impossible things from her handbag to the wonderfully animated (it looks hand drawn, though I doubt it was) world they jump into, to a bathtub scene that takes the family out to an ocean filled with bubbles. This film had a $130 million budget and that might be thanks to Disney not wanting this to flop by any means. Mary Poppins is a character that is timeless and simply making this movie was a gamble. Thankfully the efforts of director Rob Marshall, the cast, and the art team used that budget to pay off the viewers big time.
The story is simple enough so that you’re never bored and the little ones can follow along too. One has to wonder if Poppins is leading all these characters on when she can snap her fingers and fix it all, but that’s not the point. As I said above there are strong messages in the songs be it those we love are never gone, or how we should always stay positive because it’s always darkest before the dawn. That rings true in the story which includes a villain banker played by Colin Firth. He’s dastardly in that Disney kid movie sort of way but plays it well enough that you respect this mean man. It has a Scrooge-ness to it that fans will respect – especially at this time of year.
This film also seems to flesh out Mary Poppins in surprising ways including sending her on a journey down an alley, not unlike Diagon Alley. There she meets a cousin who is basically a fellow witch (who are we kidding the film should have been dubbed Poppins, Mary: The Magic Shady Lady Chronicles Part 2). Played by Meryl Streep, this cousin has a fun topsy turvy song and dance to help remind the kids sometimes we’re down only because we think so. It’s developments like this that make one wonder if Disney will make a third film to flesh out the Poppins character even further.
The movie has a way of making you feel happy even when the characters are not. And really that is the purpose of Mary Poppins, isn’t it? She performs magic, but that magic is meant to remind us life itself is a wonderment to be cherished and amazed by. This film accomplishes that task and then some.