A Memory: Disney’s Mary Poppins Returns
When I was 4 years old, my parents took me and my sister to the zoo for a weekend in Detroit. On that same trip, they surprised us with a gift that will never be forgotten; taking us to the first movie I ever saw. It was Mary Poppins and this was in 1968.
My parents love to tell this story with pride and joy. That once Mary Poppins, the original movie started, I wiggles off the seat to my feet as if hypnotized to stand up, grabbing hold of the seat in front of me so I could get closer, gazing up at the screen with wonderment. Mouth open and eyes wide. They kept trying to get me to sit down, telling me that the movie was too long to stand through, but after many attempts of gently guiding me back into my seat, I would wiggle off again. They finally gave up, just letting me stand. Thinking I would get tired and sit all on my own. But they were wrong. And there I stood. Amazed. To the very end.
Today I experienced something pretty much the same. My parents and I (shame my sister wasn’t in town to join us) went to see Mary Poppins Returns. I’m too tall to stand, but for a few hours, I was that same awed child, amazed and enchanted. Directed by Rob Marshall (“Chicago”), the return of Jane and Michael’s nanny is as joyful of a return for this grown man as it was for those two children, and the three new Banks children.
It’s gloriously done, giving so many touching nods to the original, without mimicking or feeling overwhelming, thanks to screenplay writer David Magee (“Finding Neverland“). I was surprised the number of times those touches brought a lump to my throat and a tear to my eye. Who knew I missed Mary Poppins that much. Emily Blunt (“The Devil Wears Prada”) miraculously gives us a practically perfect spoonful of Julie Andrews sugar without ever losing her own specific interpretation of this iconic nanny. Lin-Manuel Miranda (Broadway’s Hamilton) oddly enough is a joy to behold, giving us a Dick Van Dyke (who’s also just lovely in his perfect cameo) creation, bad cockney accent and all, charming both us and the magnificent Emily Mortimer (“Hugo“) as grown up Jane. He gives us a chimney sweep song and dance equivalent with it never feeling too cheesy facsimile, which is really what the whole movie does so well. They give equal emotional and fantastical moments that parallel without diminishing either. A nod of the hat and a wink of that sassier mirror version of Mary Poppins (but would P.L. Travers approve?).
Ben Whishaw (Broadway’s The Crucible) as troubled adult Michael, widowed and in financial trouble also finds the right connective tissue to his father from the original. He’s stern in some of the same moments, and soft, loving, and touchingly heart-broken in others, especially that lovely song he sings in the attic, surrounded by so many personal and universal memories of his (our childhood). The new young ones, (Pixie Davies, Nathanael Saleh, Joel Dawson) with a warm reminder in the housekeeper role, loving brought to unforgettable forgetfulness by Julie Walters (“Brooklyn“), are written by — with an awareness of growing up in a household dealing with death, sadness, and love, each finding their own personal step into needing someone like Mary Poppins. Meryl Streep of course shines in the topsy-turvy Uncle Albert moment that made me smile, just like the laughing uncle that forced Julie Andrews’ Mary to have tea floating up high in his drawing-room. Laughing until sadness brought it to an end. And the added touch of Colin Firth (“Love, Actually“) as the wolf in a sheep’s suit, and Disney alum, Angela Lansbury (“Bednobs and Broomsticks”) bringing the sweet helium balloon moment to a beautiful reunion-like end, all felt so right and so deliciously supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.
This time I cried a few adult tears, compared it a bit too much to the original, but loved every glorious minute all the same. I’d love to see it again. And relive the moment when a young boy was transported. A #frontmezzjunkies was born that day, I reckon. And he still sees life, theatre, and film-magic through those same very wide eyes.
Thank you Disney Studios for that first dazzling moment and for today.