The new "Mary Poppins Returns" is a soaring success, a rousing romp and a tremendous triumph! If I thought I wouldn't get trounced, I might even say I like it as well or better than the original (I feel the urge to duck right now). Emily Blunt (who sings and dances splendorifically) is practically perfect in every way for the role of the world's favorite nanny--a role which she nails and owns while captivating and commanding the screen. From her mysterious, shaded British eyes that exude both steely resolve and an impish glow, to her affected and snooty accent, Blunt's every turn of the head, every under-her-breath witticism hits the mark with precision.
The setting is exactly as the title says: "a return." The children in the first Mary Poppins film, Michael and Jane, are all grown up. Michael is a widower with three young children who are growing up before their time. They are responsible and capable, but also sad and cynical. Michael is a bit of a scatterbrain and terrible with finances. His patience has worn completely thin and he's at his wit's end, about to lose the storied (pun intended) family home. Enter Mary Poppins, dressed in her old-world, eccentric, spit-spot attire. (It's a kite that brings her back to the Banks' family.)
In no time, Mary revives the children's joie de vivre, has them believing in magic (although MP firmly denies her magical powers as "absurd" and "rubbish") and agog at the world around them. The kids set out to save the house with schemes they've concocted themselves, under the watchful eye of Miss P.
Lin-Manuel Miranda (the lead in Broadway's "Hamilton") is OUTSTANDING as Jack the lamplighter. A big dance number with Jack and the other lamplighters (including a kind of lamplighter improv rapping) steals the show.
No effort was spared on the rich, magnificent, but never overblown sets, props, camera angles, cinematography, FX, details, animation (yes, it's all there, even strains of the original songs and constant references to the original story with important story elements and plot points originating in the past). I do hope these new tunes will be sung and memorized every bit as much as "Feed the Birds," "Let's Go Fly a Kite," etc. The lyrics express wonderful sentiments, mostly about not giving up hope, not listening to naysayers--making us feel, with Mary Poppins, that, pish-posh, ship-shape: "nothing is impossible." The cinema experience is truly exhilarating. (I was responsible for initiating the applause in my theater at the end of the movie.)
It's delicious to see Colin Firth (usually playing a complex dramatic role) as a one-note, cardboard villain. He plays it to the teeth. Meryl Streep and Angela Lansbury also join the fun. The biggest show stealer, or rather show stopper, of course, is the beloved Mr. Dick Van Dyke, dancing away at 92 in top form.
There is one bawdy song in which the umbrella-clutching governess herself dons 20's flapper gear and takes to a stage. I live with a Sister from Florida who is an aficionado of all things Disney, and she was horrified: "Mary Poppins is NOT bawdy." The words of the song go by so fast (nothing visually objectionable) that kids might miss it. Might. Something about not judging a book by its cover till you're under the covers. I get why Sr. Carly was upset--it almost makes us think that MP's devoted, disciplined, modest front is just that, a front. And that maybe the point is (wink, wink, adults) Miss Mary Jekyll turns into Miss Hyde at night, frequenting dives and speakeasys. Well, maybe it's not that bad, but Hollywood just can't seem to refrain from an injection of lasciviousness into everything, almost like a subversive trademark.
LOOKING FOR MARY POPPINS
There are--thankfully!--no modern-day anachronistic agendas and ideologies plopped into London of the 1930's. However. I have a question for all us women viewers. We all love Mary Poppins, right? But why don't we want to BE Mary Poppins? Why don't we see more current-day women LIKE Mary Poppins on the screen? This is a great tragedy. Women are so good at children. We are so gifted by God for nurturing good little men and women into great adult men and women ("the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world"). But it takes time. Lots and lots of time. And attention (of which we have a sore deficit, even when families are physically together). Children are not like cats (hardly any care required) or dogs (a little more care required). They need constant conversation and supervision and adventures and formation and instruction and correction and consolation and education and leading and role-modeling and inspiration and encouragement and TLC. Love gives of the very marrow of the self (not just money, things, and busy busy actions/deeds/tasks on behalf of the other)--but this is often the hardest gift to give--not just for women, but for everyone. And yet, it seems women used to give this gift more easily and naturally and now it has become foreign to us. Perhaps the point of the bawdy song was to separate MP from the children...she has a life of her own! But it's almost back to the "virgin or harlot" false dichotomy/false choice. There's another way. I shall call it "The Mary Poppins Option."
THE MARY POPPINS OPTION
"The Mary Poppins Option" is how women can truly "have it all"--but not in the usual, improbable sense. In my book, the mysterious Mary Poppins is the best of what a woman can be. She is more of a matrix, a Maria Montessori, a galvanizer, a (healthy) enabler, more a mediatrix than a savior, and certainly a shepherdess and wisdom figure. She's a helpmeet who assists children and adults in finding the ingenuity, will and gumption in themselves. The Mary Poppins Option is that: a woman can be smart, sweet, supercilious and sassy all at the same time (like the all-the-rage melange of sweet and salty, or the sweet and sour soup that we all love); primp her appearance (if she wants); have a meaningful, challenging job; use her resilient, resourceful and receptive womanly gifts with all she meets, enriching them and making herself and them better people for having encountered her; hold the reins to the zeitgeist of a culture and steer it toward virtue and heroic sacrifice (sacrifices of both men and women); put the person, people first, love expressed in deeds, commitment, loyalty and precious time poured out.
Only out of Mary's prim and proper, well-ordered life, inside and out, could emerge true daring, could emerg educated risks, trust in an unknown future, taking the heat when plans fail, the courage to soldier on in the face of hardships, and...abandonment to carefree fun and imagination. They seem mutually exclusive don't they? Wise order and crazy antics? Or perhaps they're not really crazy antics but constructive, creative play that one should never outgrow. Only through self-denial, training and inner growth will be able to discern the difference and be able to truly cut loose...in the most delightful way. Only when we live according to the divine order can beauty and joy manifest.
"Mary Poppins Returns" is a solid project, a brilliant new classic--where the adult actors are as good as the child actors--that should win many awards and thrill audiences of all ages for years to come.
--Take the kiddos! See it in the CINEMA! Hurry up! Jiggety-jog!
--Julie Andrews wouldn't do a cameo because she didn't want to upstage Emily Blunt.
--After the long, boring and not terribly inventive opening credits (besides the fact that it is probably supposed to be the paintings of Michael, dabbling in the new art form of "Impressionism"), the opening scene bursts out in song with Jack the lamplighter riding his bike, going from lamp to lamp, turning them off in the first few streaks of morning light. (I thought to myself: that looks like the guy from "Hamilton," but I hadn't done any research beforehand.) The song was fabulous and I was completely one over and knew I was going to love this film. I particularly liked the lyric: "You'll be blessed from above." #God
--The only miscast thespian was Michael, IMHO. I didn't care for him, Sam I am. And his hair was all wrong for the time period. Sideburns? Are you kidding me?
--It would be fun to go back and view the original "Mary Poppins," as well as "Saving Mr. Banks": the story of the female author of the MP series making Walt Disney's wait a very long time to obtain the rights to do the film, which, according to Sr. Carly, became his favorite work.
--"Grownups forget. They always do." --MP
--"Today or never, that's my motto." --MP
--"We're on the brink of an adventure, children, don't ruin it with too many questions."
--"Mary Poppins never explains anything."
--I watched this with Ma and she guessed the resolution immediately.
--The balloon scene really made me think of Jesus' Ascension. Don't laugh. I'm dead serious. Think about it. The human spirit longs to ascend. "No Place To Go But Up."
--2 hrs and 10 min did NOT feel long.
--The best "time lock" in a movie ever! And it's steam punk! (A "time lock" is a device that adds to the suspense. Characters only have a very limited, exact amount of time or disaster will strike and all will be lost.)
--Some BMX-like action makes it feel a bit modern, along with the "rap," but we know every age had its version of everything else. "What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun." --Ecclesiastes 1:9
--Jesus said: "It is no part of your Father's plan that any one of these little ones should ever come to grief." That means us. Little ones grow up. God wants us all to be saved, to choose salvation.
--MP is kinda like the woman of Proverbs 13. She laughs at troubled times because she knows there's a big picture and the story isn't over yet.
--I think it's silly to have MP be vain. I wonder if that's in the original stories and, if it is, why.
--Some VERY jazzy musical offerings that make rock n' roll look like Lawrence Welk.