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Mary Poppins Returns: Remake, Sequel, or Bust?
Viewers may have mixed expectations about the new movie, “Mary Poppins Returns.” For some purists that have loved the classic since it was released in the 60s, the thought of a remake or sequel of Mary Poppins may make you feel queasy. Why is this? Because we have grown to love the Julie Andrews of the original Mary Poppins, as she is practically perfect in every way. We are used to her voice (a high, lilting soprano), her “cheery disposition,” and her infectious laughter. She shares these traits in her Maria character in “The Sound of Music.” Julie Andrews “makes” both of these movies. You can’t hear the songs of “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” and “Stay Awake” without hearing Andrews soprano voice cutting through the mix and lifting your soul.
Also, there seems to be a general animosity towards Disney or any other remakes of classic popular movies. Once a “classic” has been made, there is generally a disdain to the notion that it can be improved upon or added to without somehow ‘ruining’ the original. There is a sense that it will never be ‘as good’ as the original. It comes down to expectations and how much of a movie purist you really are.
“Mary Poppins Returns” is NOT a remake. It is in fact, a sequel. A sequel that is set about 30 years removed from the classic Mary Poppins. Being a sequel means that the original characters in the story have aged, but presents a critical problem for Mary Poppins – that is – Mary Poppins is a timeless (non-aging?) figure in the story, and Julie Andrews experienced debilitating vocal cord surgery and can no longer sing like she used to. As such, she could no longer play in a new Mary Poppins movie (in theory, unless she played a non-singing role, but that would not be befitting of the character). She was offered to make an appearance in the film, but turned it down.
Being that Andrews was not going to be in the film, the character of Mary Poppins is an incredibly difficult role to fill, because it is tied, in the minds and souls of millions, to the person of Julie Andrews. It is tied to her voice specifically, her vocal range, and her personality. As such, many will make the decision to not see the film on this criteria alone, because nobody, I mean NOBODY, can replace Julie Andrews. Furthermore, actress Emily Blunt is NOT a soprano (1 strike against her), doesn’t have a well trained, light, lyrical voice (2 strikes), and does not have the same charming, “cheery disposition” that espouses the Mary Poppins and Maria of Julie Andrews (3 strikes!) Still, Blunt performs the role of Poppins well in context of the original books by P. L Travers, and gives a much sterner and in some ways, more wooden performance of Mary Poppins. Oh, and she’s an alto with a pop-style voice. I don’t mean this as a critique – she is just different than the Mary Poppins that you expect.
If you can accept that this is a different movie, with a different plot, that occurs at a different time, and happens in the Mary Poppins London world, I think you can enjoy this film, and Emily Blunt can still hit an inside-the-park home run.
What “Mary Poppins Returns” Gets Right
The setting! Oh the setting! The familiar Cherry Tree Lane set, the Admiral’s cannon on top of the neighbor’s house, the eerie blue fog and blue color grading of the evening scenes, the charm of the children, Fidelity Fiduciary Bank, the house and period architecture, the magic, the animation scenes and more. This is clearly a Mary Poppins film.
The Plot. Without giving spoilers, Michael Banks grew up to be a starving artist that took a teller position at Fidelity Fiduciary Bank (FFB). He got married, had 3 kids, and his wife died. That conveniently leaves his sister Jane as his side-kick and a mother type of figure to the 3 kids. Basically, they came upon hard times and he took out a loan from FFB to get by, fell behind on his bills, and FFB, now in corrupt new management, is out to foreclose the home – nevermind that Michael Banks is an employee that they are now trying to screw over. This mess is the perfect scene for Mary Poppins to make her appearance and save the day, teaching the children not to worry, and teaching the family how to be stable and selfless throughout the drama.
The Music. “Mary Poppins Returns” has an excellent score, brilliantly orchestrated, with familiar themes from the classic score woven at key points in the new film. The songs themselves, while seemingly not as memorable as the explosive hits of the classic score, are very nice, and given the chance to stand on their own, could make some great hits. Of particular poignancy is “Where the Lost Things Go,” the new film’s equivalent of “Stay Awake” where Poppins makes up a song to lull the children to sleep, while calming their fears of the unknown. Michael Banks delivers with “A Conversation” – his character, voice, and songs will melt your heart. Even Jack (Bert’s doppelganger in this film) has some soaring lines and even some falsetto parts in his solos.
Then/Now (functional equivalents) of the classic movie to “Mary Poppins Returns.” There is a functional equivalent of each major song and scene in the new film to the classic film. Here are some examples:
|Bert the chimney sweep||Jack the lamp-post lighter|
|“A Comical Poem” (Bert’s intro song)||“Underneath the Lovely London Sky”|
|Votes for women – Mrs. Banks role||Fighting for equal pay for under-employed workers – Jane Banks role|
|“A Spoonful Of Sugar”||“Can You Imagine That?”|
|“Stay Awake”||“Where the Lost Things Go”|
|“I Love To Laugh”||“Turning Turtle”|
|The crazy uncle and the laughing-lifting sequence||Poppins’ crazy cousin and the topsy-turvy sequence|
|“Supercalifragilistic….”||“A Cover is Not the Book”|
|The chimney sweep sequence||The lamplighters dance and bike tricks sequence|
|“Chim Chimeree”||“Trip A Little Light Fantastic”|
|“Let’s Go Fly A Kite”||“Nowhere To Go But Up”|
The Choreography and Animated Sequences
“Mary Poppins Returns” delivers. Brilliantly weaving the hand drawn animation with the animals dancing and the choreography of Poppins and Jack, the “A Cover Is Not the Book” sequence is pretty evenly matched. The only complaint is that Mary Poppins’ straight short hair and purple striped pant-suit during the dancing scene was a far cry from being as pleasant as the fairy-like white bridal dress that adorned Andrews during the dancing scenes with Bert. It definitely didn’t have the same feel, but was definitely fun none-the-less.
The lamplighters dance – the re-enactment of Chim Chimeree with bike-riding and lamppost dancing lamplighters was spot on. Bravo! They nailed it.
Instead of Poppins and the children jumping into sidewalk paintings, they jump into an undersea adventure through their bathtub, and explore the world of a painted porcelain bowl. All the traditional magic is there too, from Poppins commanding papers to fly, things to organize, using the force to summon her umbrella, and of course, flying. All the magic is there, including the talking parrot-head-cane.
What “Mary Poppins Returns” Gets Weird
We need to talk about the Topsy Turvy (“Turning Turtle”) sequence. I know what they were going for – something outlandish, like the laughing uncle that got stuck in the top of his apartment. But Merryl Streep’s character of the crazy Poppins cousin that fixes anything and everything was…. Downright weird. Like a crazy-female-version-of-Johnny-Depp-playing-Willy-Wonka kind of weird, but with short orange hair and lots more creepiness. The song and dance routine and vertically flipping gravity was definitely inventive, but this sequence definitely needed something different.
Lastly, rather than having a horse race with Poppins and Bert riding off on merry go round ponies, the song/dance sequence that takes inside the bowl-world somehow careens into a creepy, frightening scene as one of the Banks children are kidnapped, and what follows is a wild and scary horse chase and fight between the oldest banks girl and the really scary kidnapper, which is never really resolved, and then all of the sudden, they are flung off the edge of the bowl, falling and falling, then warping into reality, but it was really a nightmare? Odd, and scary. I can see what they were going for, how dreams can have sudden, scary twists into nightmares, but this sequence didn’t actually begin as a dream, but the kids woke up in bed, writhing from nightmares. I don’t think that this film needed this scary of a scene, though. And how it transpired and ended felt abrupt and unresolved.
The conclusion is three words: DICK VAN DYKE returns as Mr. Dawes. YESSSS!!! Yes, he’s 90 years old and he saves the day, and dances on the desk. That’s all you need to know.
Go see the film? YES. You will enjoy it, but adjust your expectations about Mary Poppins going in to enjoy it the most. And hold your 5 year old during the horse chase.
Emily Blunt, with 3 strikes against her, still delivers and inside-the-park homerun, and the acting by Michael Banks, the children, and Jack (who makes a respectable Poppins cockney sidekick) are superb. The visuals and orchestration are gorgeous, and Dick Van Dyke is Dick Van Dyke. What more to say? Thanks for reading!
Michael Lining is a professional musician, music ministry leader, computer repair specialist, and content creator in the Greenville, South Carolina. He is married to a beautiful wife, also a musician, and together they have a cute little boy, another budding musician. He and his wife are employees and representatives of Prodigies Music. You can follow them on Facebook at Michael Lining Music and Mandy Lining Music. You can also find him through his business website, his YouTube channel, and on Twitter.