EJ Moreno on the magic of Mary Poppins Returns…
Who knew it all it would take was Emily Blunt and a spoonful of sugar to make me love Mary Poppins? Walking away from the new Disney film, Mary Poppins Returns, left me in such an utter state of glee. What is it about this film that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy? Journey with me as I attempt to figure out how Mary Poppins Returns unfroze my cold, cynical heart!
Let’s start with a bit of a backstory about my feelings towards Disney. In my nearly three decades of living, I’ve only been to Disney World once as a baby. Never even returning to the theme park, though I live just a few hours away. Growing up, the types of movies I was into were nothing like what Disney offered; for reference, I saw 1996’s Scream as grade school started. One of my earliest school memories is the class gathering to see the original Mary Poppins, but I missed movie time as I dealt with a bee-sting. Fast-forward to 2018, and I have only recently ventured back to see that 1964 Julie Andrews classic. Masterfully crafted, the film is quite enjoyable but didn’t rock my world or anything. In all honesty, it furthered feelings that Mary Poppins was a thing of the past and should stay a classic in our memories. Oh, how wrong I was…
This moment leads me to Mary Poppins Returns, and the day Disney made my heart grow three sizes. Walking into this film, it felt like the entire thing was unneeded. Following this year’s lackluster Christopher Robin and the host of remakes Disney is making, Mary Poppins Returns felt like more of the same for the brand. The trailers were well-made with the casting of Emily Blunt feeling like one of the only real highlights. Even the addition of Lin-Manuel Miranda felt like an attempt to grab his devoted Hamilton audience. I can’t express enough how not excited I was for this screening. And then the lights went down, and the film opens with an amazingly warm song from Miranda called “Lovely London Sky.” At that moment, the film transported me to this English town, and I was apart of the world. After the stellar opening, the film never lets up with the hits, each song as delectable and entertaining as the last. Mary Poppins Returns hits a creative peak when the characters journey into Royal Doulton Bowl and the movie becomes a cartoon, live-action hybrid. This homage to the original comes across so charming and in such high quality that it will win over the most jaded of viewers.
What stands out for me is how I relate to Michael Banks’ journey in this film. He’s overwhelmed with work, still upset over the loss of his wife, and too stuck in his ways for any child-like wonderment. It felt like the filmmakers made it a point to make this character relatable; forcing viewers to see their personality within the uptight Michael. Mary Poppins taught him how to enjoy life and see the ridiculousness, something he never passed along to his kids. The lost childhood is what drives the nanny back to Cherry Tree Lane; Mary feels the need to bring joy and wonderment back to this house and dreary 1930’s London. The setting of this film doesn’t feel all too different than my own either. In a time where the political landscape is draining, Internet fan culture can be toxic, and anything else going on in the world, Mary Poppins Returns serves as a reminder to pause and be goofy for a moment. The film isn’t perfect by any means, but neither was the 1967 original film either. Something comes off corny and a little stupid, but it never stops the smiles. Sometimes laughing you can with and at the movie without it needing to be anything more than cheesy entertainment.
Although, to pass this off as cheesy entertainment is diminishing the magic of Mary Poppins Returns. This film has impeccable craftsmanship. Director Rob Marshall puts his best foot forward and gives his best musical since the Academy Award-winning Chicago. The music numbers feel ripped straight out of Broadway, calling back to a time in Hollywood with musicals like My Fair Lady, Annie Get Your Gun and the original Mary Poppins. It doesn’t come off like a cheap rip-off like recent musicals either. Every musical number feels earnest and amusing, especially the showstopping number called “A Cover Is Not A Book.” While you can tell everything is so well-planned, it doesn’t take you out of the experience. You sit in amazement and enjoyment for the film; this is something I haven’t felt from a musical in quite some time.
Disney doesn’t win me over like this often. For any comic book fans, they’ll get this analogy. The company feels like Superman in a big battle. He could easily show off all his powers and win any fight quickly, but he chooses to fight fair. Disney is that powerhouse that doesn’t flex all their muscles enough. But Mary Poppins Returns is the company putting everything thing they have into one knockout punch. They pulled every trick out of their nanny bag for this one. Now if only they can keep this momentum going forward with their next big battles, Toy Story 4 and the “live action” Lion King remake.
There’s no real explanation of why Mary Poppins Returns works for me though. My only conclusion is magic and a little imagination. Go into this film with your love of Disney or a close-mind like I did, you’ll be walking out wanting to do the entire choreography for “Trip A Little Light Fantastic” no matter what.
Mary Poppins Returns is directed by Rob Marshall (Into the Woods) and sees Emily Blunt (The Girl on the Train) leading the cast alongside Lin-Manuel Miranda (Moana), Ben Whishaw (Spectre), Emily Mortimer (Hugo), Julie Walters (Harry Potter), Colin Firth (The King’s Speech), Meryl Streep (Florence Foster Jenkins), Pixie Davies (Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children), Nathanael Saleh (Game of Thrones), Angela Lansbury (Murder, She Wrote), and newcomer Joel Dawson, with Dick Van Dyke set to make a cameo appearance. It will open on December 21st 2018 in the UK and December 25th 2018 in North America.