Trip a little light fantastic: A review of “Mary Poppins Returns”

by The Collected Mutineer (with input from The Collected Canadian)

There are a handful of films from my childhood that still resonate with me today, perhaps even more now than when I first saw them. Mary Poppins (1964) is one of them. The practically perfect tale about a family’s need to reconnect with each other has become a classic, aided by magical performances and memorable songs. With each viewing, it becomes more and more dear to me than the time before. So can a sequel brought to life 54 years later possibly compare?

Keep reading for a relatively spoiler-free review! Spoilers will be marked with *asterisks*.

Disney

The age-of-men-London of 1910 is long gone. The film opens at the height of the Great Slump (the great depression in the United Kingdom), and the once cheery Cherry Tree Lane reflects the economic woes of its city. The skies are gray and most people appear downcast—all but Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda), a young lamp-lighter who used to wave at Michael and Jane through the window when they were children. Determined to find the light in dark places, he admires the beauty of London. His effervescent, childlike hopefulness is just a hint of what will abound when Mary Poppins returns to the Banks family. The Banks children are not the same people she left behind a quarter of a century before. Their childhoods were cut short by the first world war, and their adulthoods haven’t been easy either. Their parents have died, and though 17 Cherry Tree Lane still belongs to Michael, his own wife has also passed on leaving him with three young children and multiple financial difficulties. Needless to say, Jane (Emily Mortimer) and Michael (Ben Whishaw) have lost their sense of wonder and innocence in the face of real-world difficulties and personal tragedy.

Enter Mary (Emily Blunt).

Mary Poppins comes in on a whirlwind—literally—and announces that she will be a nanny to the Banks children: John, Annabel, and Georgie. Michael and Jane are stunned to see their old nanny so unchanged…and though Michael doesn’t have the money for her wages, he agrees that she can stay. He and his sister have other things on their mind, primarily the fact that he owes money to the very bank he works for: Fidelity Fiduciary. Unless he can pay back the loan in a matter of days, the bank will repossess their house. Remembering that their father George had left them shares in the bank, the adults are frantically searching for the certificate of ownership, which leaves the children in the capable hands of none other than Mary.

Disney

The film follows a very similar pattern to its predecessor. The children are skeptical at first, but quickly swept up in outlandish and magical adventures with their nanny. From underwater escapades in the bath to animated show-tunes inside a painted china bowl, John, Annabel, and Georgie learn to be children again, having had to grow up quickly after their mother’s untimely death. Joined periodically by Jack, they find the good things in spite of the bad—and are able to remember that their mother is always with them in “The Place Where Lost Things Go.”

In the end, **Michael and Jane both rediscover what is truly meaningful in life: loving those around you. It’s much like the finale of the first film, with an exciting send-off and a sky full of kites—well, almost. It’s balloons this time around, but the message is the same. If your heart is light, so are you, in every way that matters.**

Disney

The film’s strengths lie not only in its messages about love and family, but in the homage it pays to the character brought to life by Julie Andrews so many years ago. It’s obvious that very careful attention was paid to the role by Blunt, and the overall atmosphere she brought to the performance is not only reminiscent of the past, but joyful and charming in her own way. From her updated and immaculate 30’s style wardrobe to her ancient TARDIS-like carpet bag, she’s every inch Mary Poppins, and I for one think that Andrews would consider it a job well done.

There are other callbacks to the original movie that will certainly bring a smile to the face of anyone who grew up with Mary Poppins. From strains of hauntingly familiar music to perhaps the best cameo. **Dick Van Dyke appears toward the end of the movie, in the role of Mr. Dawes, Jr. More than just an emotional recollection of the beloved magic that is Mary Poppins, he is a living testament to the idea that “age is just a number.” Dick Van Dyke exemplifies the point of the movie—that you’re never too old to be childlike. In his book Keep Moving (And Other Tips and Truths about Aging) he states, **

I am a child in search of his inner adult, though the truth is I’m not searching too hard…That is the secret, the one people always ask me about when they see me singing and dancing, whistling my way through the grocery store or doing a soft shoe in the checkout line. They say, ‘Pardon me, Mr. Van Dyke, but you seem so happy. What’s your secret?’ What they really want to know is how I have managed to grow old, even very old, without growing up, and the answer is this: I haven’t grown up. I play. I dance with my inner child. Every day. There. Now you know the secret too.

So, is it the same as the original film? No, of course not. And that’s not a bad thing. Like Mary Poppins? Enjoy a good musical? Want a sense of happiness in today’s world? Watch this movie with someone you love, and you too will rediscover your inner child.

Merry Christmas from all of us here at The Collective!

P.S. Already seen the movie and not sure what “trip a little light fantastic” means? “Tripping the light fantastic” means to dance merrily. Of course, it is a play on words, seeing as how the leeries are literally lighting lamps during this sequence. 

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