After a year of doom and gloom, we’ve another jolly holiday with Mary. But is this sequel practically perfect, or will Disney be laughing all the way to the (Fidelity Fiduciary) bank?
Disney seem to have this reboot/remake game down easily by now. They’ve had a string of commercial successes with their live-action remakes of animated classics (not including Pete’s Dragon), and after acquiring the rights to Star Wars they set about remaking the first film, make a few tweaks and calling it Episode VII.
Now, for some people these were very good moves and resulted in very good films; for others it was a shameless cash-in on their glory days, with no need to risk losing money on something “original”.
I sit somewhere in the middle personally (love the new Star Wars, can’t see past the piles of money with everything else), but when it came to pass that Mary Poppins would be getting the nostalgia milking treatment, I was thoroughly worried.
When it comes to adding to a classic film’s story, should that follow-up end up being terrible it’s hard to think of the original film in the same bright way. You’ll see it on TV and at least once think “it’s a shame they had to ruin it with X film”. It’s classic Crystal Skull Syndrome.
(N.B.: I was one of the dozen people that actually enjoyed Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, so consider that a barefaced bit of pandering.)
The original Mary Poppins is a truly lovely, impossibly perfect film; the songs are impossible to shake off, the characters are fully realised and allowed to be flawed so that they can learn, and the ending is so uplifting you could fly a kite on it. The film is so great that even thinking about making a sequel would have been blasphemy to some people – and it probably still is for them. But here we are, and Mary Poppins has indeed returned in Mary Poppins Returns.
I’m delighted to say that it’s a triumphant return after all.
On the surface, Mary Poppins Returns is a Force Awakens style sequel/remake, in which the key elements of the classic original are taken, adapted and placed into a new story. However, as Mary Poppins and Jack – this film’s Bert, played by Lin-Manuel Miranda – point out in an insanely catchy Music Hall number, the cover is not the book.
The story this time takes place some 25 years after Mary Poppins first set foot in Number 17 Cherry Tree Lane, and the country is in the midst of Depression.
None more so than Michael Banks, who grew up, got married, had three kids and then became widowed (another movie mum tragically dispatched before the film even starts, it’s a heartbreaking epidemic) before landing a teller job at the bank to pay the bills. Jane it seems took more after Mrs Banks, and has become a workers’ rights activist, but she doesn’t get a whole lot to do in this film, sadly.
Anyways, the Banks’ son is the main point of concern here, and so Mary Poppins turns up to help Michael help himself, while giving his kids the childhood they never had thanks to a lifetime of austerity. It’s one hell of a bleak opening and stands in stark contrast to the cushy-upbringing-but absent-father problem of the original.
The next, and arguably biggest same-but-different point of note is Mary Poppins herself. Where Julie Andrews played the magic nanny as a consummate professional who grew attached to Jane and Michael Banks despite her best efforts, Emily Blunt’s performance is a natural progression of that point. She wasn’t hired for a job this time, she came purely because a friend was in need, and their children grew up too fast.
Blunt is a treat to watch and hear as Poppins; she’s given the character here a more clipped diction than Andrews ever did, but the joy and enthusiasm which Emily Blunt has put into her portrayal of Mary Poppins is clear to see in every moment for which she’s on screen.
She’s very well supported here by a solid cast, and of course a great run of songs. Oh, the songs. In fact the music overall is just great and hits all the right nerves. Again there are more than a few callbacks to the first film, and songs that don’t necessarily copy what came before, but are certainly overlapping the same area. Also, every piece of music has been expertly crafted to nestle in your brain; good luck getting Trip a Little Light Fantastic or Nowhere to Go But Up out of your head after watching this.
In fact, I dare you try that right now:
Mary Poppins Returns is, at the end of the day, nice. It’s clear that this is a film made in the wake of both Paddington films being in existence, and while the House of Mouse made a more blatant attempt to get in on the bear love to terrible results, this is a much more effective effort. The whole thing is predictable, mawkish, silly and lightweight, and that’s exactly what cinema audiences need right now.
2018 has been a terrible year for many people, and 2019 doesn’t look like it’ll be much better, so we absolutely need more light and silly films in amongst the more substantial fare. It’s why I rank Mamma Mia! 2 so highly of all of the year’s releases, and gets exactly to the point that certain cinema chains’ trailers starring Johnny Flynn creeping through different films wants to make: that people go to the cinema to escape.
Until now, you couldn’t get more escapist than Mary Poppins and the Banks children jumping into a street painting, and now we have Mary Poppins and the Banks children’s children jumping into a Royal Doulton bowl. As the film unequivocally puts it, the world needs more childish delights: whether it’s flying a kite, floating away on a balloon, or taking 2 hours out of a stressful day to go and see this film.
Personally, I think I know what I’ll be picking in the future.
Happy New Year, everyone.