Mary Poppins Is Back, But Sans Sugar

The reboot is full of nostalgia, but it lacks magic.
December 27, 2018
6 mins read

Disney’s new musical, “Mary Poppins Returns,” definitely has big shoes to fill following the original American classic, “Mary Poppins.” The 1964 version stole the hearts of many with its musical numbers and almost perfect nanny, played by Julie Andrews. The recreation of childhood classics recently picked up speed with films such as “Pan,“ “Christopher Robin” and now “Mary Poppins Returns.”

The sequel hit theaters in the United States on Dec. 19 and received mixed reviews. Mark Kermode at The Guardian summed up the general feeling around the film when he called it “not totally expialidocious but still a joy.” With that in mind, after months of anticipation, the new “Mary Poppins” didn’t disappoint.

The film follows an adult Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw) and his three children as they learn that the bank will repossess their home if he does not pay back a loan by the end of a five-day period. Hope is not lost when Poppins, Banks and his sister’s beloved childhood nanny, pops in to save the day and of course take the family on a fantastic adventure while doing so.

The sequel revisits much of the nostalgia of the original film, even though the sequel is set 20 years later, during the Great Depression. Each musical number in the new film is created to match those of the first, and just like the classic “Mary Poppins” film, the new version takes some creative liberties with the use of both live action and animation to create the magical world from P.L. Traver’s novels. According to Scott Lehane, character designer James Woods noted that they “wanted to honor the legacy of the original, and maintain continuity with it, so a lot of the look is based on a 1960s style of Disney Animation.”

The new film succeeds in recreating moments from the original adaptation of Traver’s stories; however, it is missing some of the magic that was created for children who watched the film growing up.

Emily Blunt does well as Mary Poppins, but Andrews will always be the beloved nanny who defined the notion of supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. The film also lacks the purpose that started Mary Poppins’ journey in the first place, teaching a family about manners and setting the Banks family’s priorities straight; this time, she comes to simply save a family from one of the many effects of the Great Depression: poverty. The lessons of the original “Mary Poppins” that were brought to the homes of many is lost in the return.

However, the new film comes with Broadway star Lin-Manuel Miranda, which will have fans flocking to see him alone in the new adaptation. Miranda himself argued that the second film cannot compete with the OG and the allure it has over people, but it does tell another story of Traveler and Poppins’ journey that is worth the watch.

Keep in mind the audience is largely split between young children possibly seeing a “Mary Poppins” film for the first time, millennials whose parents introduced the film to them and, of course, the generation to see the original film as children. Thus, the mixed reviews make sense given the wide variety of audience perspectives. Those who have yet to see the first “Mary Poppins” are seeing the return of her with fresh eyes and cannot compare the two; however, older generations that have watched the original with Andrews will most likely compare the films scene by scene, especially if they are diehard Poppins fans.

“Mary Poppins Returns” is not the first magical nanny story to appear after the release of the original. “Nanny McPhee,” the 2005 film, was immediately compared to “Mary Poppins” after its premier as the “ugly Mary Poppins.” Coincidentally, the film came out with a sequel in 2010 called “Nanny McPhee Returns,” following her as she helps a new, troubled family, which is a plot line many critics, such as Bruce Miller with the Sioux City Journal, suggest that “Mary Poppins Returns” probably could’ve benefited from following. While many viewers would argue that McPhee should take notes from Poppins, perhaps it should be the other way around in this case.

Taking on the challenge of recreating such a beloved classic poses a daunting task for any director. Even if the film fell short in a few places, Rob Marshall and his team deserve a round of applause for how much they ended up getting right — especially for the Disney classic art style and feelings of nostalgia produced through the music numbers.

It’s hard to say if the new film will have the same enchanting affects on multiple generations to come, like the OG “Mary Poppins,” but it does deserve a watch. “Mary Poppins Returns will have viewers of all ages singing and dancing in their seats, much like the charm that the original movie first provided.

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