We took the little girls to see Mary Poppins Returns on opening weekend, and we all gave the movie two thumbs up.
The original Mary Poppins movie has become somewhat of a staple in our house over the last year. I introduced it to our little girls last winter, after I broke my leg, as my concession to a need for quiet time. They loved it. Songs from the film now litter our bedtime song-and-story routine, and C absolutely must hear “Let’s go fly a kite” before she falls asleep herself.
When we saw the first preview for Mary Poppins Returns, everyone said, “Ooooh.” And we immediately made plans to see it.
First, I need to say that taking a three- and four-year-old to the movies is a task best approached cautiously, for numerous reasons. I normally don’t allow the girls to watch anything I haven’t watched myself, first. I also recognize that sitting still for two hours or more is a task a preschooler has a tough time achieving. So we’ve only gone out to see a movie twice before: For Finding Dory, at the downtown second-run theater at a matinee that included an audience of many, many small children; and for Incredibles 2, which held their rapt attention (though I did have C buried in my neck for some parts).
Mary Poppins Returns, I am happy to report, kept their attention for the entire film. They loved the music, and the animation effects, and the characters.
I loved the story, too.
Watching the Poppins stories as an adult adds a layer of complexity to understanding them. For the little girls, it was about the children, with the help of their nanny, triumphing over the “naughty guys” and having fun with their family. For me, though, I saw the entire story as being about dealing with a grief so deep that it tears a family apart, and the family needs a bit of help to stitch it back together and gain new form.
The decision to provide a sequel to the original Mary Poppins, as opposed to remaking it, was sound. The sequel provides a new story, catches us up on what happened after the credits rolled for the first, and introduces a new character or two, while keeping very much in touch with its roots.
We discover that the elder Banks have passed away, leaving behind the house and a legacy in the form of shares of the Fidelity Fiduciary Bank. We find that Jane Banks works as a labor organizer, and Michael Banks, an artist, took a job as a bank teller in the wake of his wife’s death, to make ends meet and pay off a loan he took to manage her final expenses.
We find that Michael’s three children have sensibly been raising themselves, as their father is drowning in his own grief and their housekeeper, Ellen, has been steadily losing sight of reality.
Michael’s fit of despair over the bank’s declaration of intent to repossess his home results in his tossing out the green kite that ends the original Mary Poppins, and it is this very kite that comes back to his son, Georgie, attached to the nanny herself.
The rest of the story offers adventures as the children anxiously plot to help their father, who must prove he has the shares in the bank by finding them. Mary Poppins wisely allows the family to come to its own healing, while she judiciously and silently assists.
The story arc and musical numbers parallel the original: establishing the characters and the problem, offering an insight into the magic that is Mary Poppins, and finding some sort of redemptive and uplifting closure. While the music is entirely new, the musical director wisely uses themes from the original, in instrumental forms, to remind the audience of specific points in the first movie that are relevant in the second. One example is listening to the bank’s theme song as characters move through it; another lies in the use of the “let’s go fly a kite” theme when characters traverse through the park.
There’s also the musical number that could have been cut; in the original, it’s “I Love to Laugh,” which only had the purpose of telling the joke that eventually saved Mr. Banks’ job. In the sequel, it’s “Turning Turtle,” which, while fun, doesn’t do much to further the story, other than to break the children’s hearts a little bit and let Meryl Streep be in the Mary Poppins sequel.
We also see the big street number in both: “Step in Time” for the original and “Trip a Little Light Fantastic” in the sequel.
But, honestly? I cried a little bit. Okay, a lot. Because in the end, of course, the Banks children save their home with Mary Poppins’ help, and the elderly bank president, son of the original Mr. Dawes, (played enthusiastically by Dick Van Dyke, who can still do a mean little tap dance), tells the children the story of Michael’s tuppence, which had been safely invested by Mr. Dawes after the original film and had grown nicely to an amount that would pay off their loan without losing the family shares in the bank.
The lovely Angela Lansbury starts the final number, which takes place at a fair in the park, and the theme, “Nowhere to Go But Up,” reminds us all that there’s hope in a dark, dark, world.
I enthusiastically recommend seeing the movie, especially if you were ever a fan of the first. I think it will be my go-to for the days that seem dark, because it’s always good to remind oneself that there’s nowhere to go, but up.