Remember Mary Poppins?
That musical about a magical nanny who comes from the sky and brings joy to a fractured family?
Maybe you remember it fondly, happily. The bird lady! The kite! The penguins! Or maybe you remember it with disgust. Ugh, the singing nanny? That was ridiculous! For little kids! I can’t even believe I watched that! Or maybe, you’ve never seen it.
No matter which of these three categories you’re in, I can say one thing with certainty:
Mary Poppins Returns is for you.
I had pretty high expectations going into the theater: I liked the original, I’m a fan of Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton!), and musicals are my favorite (well, aside from superhero and fantasy movies. Or maybe all three are equal). Anyway, I was quite excited, but nothing prepared me for the gorgeousness and beauty I encountered in this movie. There was nothing I did not like about it. I was completely enthralled the entire time and left with a feeling of joy and wonder. I absolutely love it, and I can’t wait to tell you why.
Instead of dividing my review up into “what I liked” and “what I didn’t” (I couldn’t really do this anyway because what didn’t I like?), I’m dividing it into the lessons Mary Poppins taught me in this movie. I’ll finish off with an overall rating/recommendation. Throughout, I’ll be quoting from the songs (my favorite part!). And I’ll keep the spoilers to a minimum.
Here we go!
Jane and Michael Banks are grown. Jane’s a working woman who campaigns for the rights of underpaid employees and gives out soup to the poor. Michael’s a widower and father of three: John, Annabel, and Georgie. They’ve just discovered that their house will be repossessed in a few days, and they don’t know how to save it.
Enter Mary Poppins.
She doesn’t seem to care at all for their house, though. She doesn’t even mention it. Instead, she’s intent on teaching them something even bigger: the power of imagination. She takes them on adventures with her lamplighter friend Jack, tells them stories about lost things, and pulls pirate ships from her bag.
But Jane and Michael don’t need that kind of magic. At least that’s what they think.
Mary Poppins is about to teach them, and me, and when it’s done, here’s what they’ve learned:
Whenever characters in Mary Poppins Returns look into the sky, they see amazing things. First, of course, there’s Mary Poppins herself (or just plain “Poppins,” as my four-year-old sister calls her). Not to mention a certain kite, a glowing clock, and a host of bright balloons.
But there’s a deeper message here too, as evidence by this song:
Sooner than ya think, you’ll hear
Some bright new song
So hold on tight to those you love
And maybe soon from up above
You’ll be blessed, so keep on looking high (from “Lovely London Sky”)
The past is the past. It’s over and gone, and sometimes we decide we want to keep it that way. We fail to learn from our mistakes, yes; we don’t read the pattern of history to see what’s wrong with our country, yes; but sometimes, we really just need to… remember.
Our experiences and memories help to define us. Without them, we’re not human. Even when they hurt, we need to remember them.
Even when they hurt.
And so Michael sings to his dead wife:
We haven’t spoken in so long, dear
This year has gone by in a blur
Today seems everything’s gone wrong here
I’m looking for the way things were….
I’ll carry on the way you told me
I say that like I have a choice
And though you are not here to hold me
In the echoes, I can hear your voice (from “A Conversation”)
LOOK FOR ADVENTURE
What might happen if you dared to pretend? If you let go of logic and believed that someone died and rose again? If when you were at your lowest, you could “brush right off and start to laugh” and trust in God’s mercy?
John, Annabel, and George don’t want to imagine. They don’t want to believe that Mary Poppins can do all the things she does. They don’t want to take a leap and trust.
But sometimes, the reality of the unreal hits you in the face.
Some answer when adventure calls!
Can you imagine that?
And sail straight over waterfalls!
Can you imagine that?
They see living as its own reward….
Some people look out on the sea
And see a brand-new day
Their spirits lift them high above the blue
Yet, some others wear an anchor
And sink in seconds flat
So, perhaps we’ve learnt when day is done
Some stuff and nonsense could be fun! (from “Can You Imagine That?”)
The children, Mary, and Jack travel into the magical world of their mother’s treasured bowl, where they adventure with animated characters and tread carefully on the china surface.
The children are amazed. Where are they? What are they doing here?
But Mary Poppins has the answer: look closer, children, for not everything is as it seems.
In the nursery, you were never by yourself
There was quite another world upon your shelf
Where each day crowds make their way
Upon the sun’s descent
To a mythical, mystical, never quite logistical tent! (from “The Royal Doulton Music Hall”)
LOOK INSIDE (a book)
Have you ever judged a book by its cover?
(Admit it.) I know I have. And yes, a cover’s important, it does give us our first impression. But crack open something that looks bland and you might just find the world that’s inside is remarkable.
And that’s not only true for books. Take Lady Hyacinth Macaw, if you please. She’s nearly naked and dwells alone on a reef. She doesn’t look like she’s worth anything.
Oh, but what you don’t know is that she’s actually very rich.
Couldn’t see that from the outside, could you?
Can you see what’s inside everyone, everything, every book that’s around you? Probably not. But can you try, can you ask, can you learn? Can you read?
A cover is not a book
So open it up and take a look
‘Cause under the covers one discovers
That the king may be a crook
So please listen to what we’ve said
And open a book tonight in bed….
A cover is nice, but a cover is not the book! (from “A Cover is Not the Book”)
LOOK AT WHAT YOU HAVE
Sometimes, we crave what we can’t have. We try so hard to get what we want, and when we don’t get it, we think we must be worthless and abandoned.
But Jack, our lamplighter friend, knows that’s not the truth. Sometimes, what we have is what we need.
God put you where you are. Not where you want to be.
This fool had some rules they really ought to teach in schools
Like, you’ll be a happy king if you enjoy the things you’ve got
You should never try to be the kind of person that you’re not (from “A Cover is Not the Book” – yes, this song gets two quotes, and how could it not, because it’s about BOOKS!)
LOOK BEHIND THE MOON
We lose things sometimes. We lose our purses, our skills, our friends. It’s part of life on earth: nothing’s forever.
Or maybe not.
Remember your mother, children? The woman who you loved and who loved you and then left you? Well, guess what: she’s not gone forever. She’s just hiding.
Maybe your dish and spoon are playing hide and seek just behind the moon.
Maybe all you’re missing is just waiting for the right time to come back.
Do you ever dream or reminisce?
Wondering where to find what you truly miss
Well, maybe all those things that you love so
Are waiting in the place where the lost things go….
Nothing’s really left or lost without a trace
Nothing’s gone forever, only out of place….
Waiting there until it’s time to show
Spring is like that now, far beneath the snow
Hiding in the place where the lost things go (from “The Place Where Lost Things Go”)
LOOK AT THINGS FROM A DIFFERENT ANGLE
Cousin Topsy’s a bit… weird. For starters, her hair is orange, her accent is Polish (or… something), and she lives behind a small door at the end of an alley.
Oh yes, and her rooms are all upside down.
Why, you ask? Why, because it’s DREADED SECOND WEDNESDAY, when everything about Topsy’s world changes. Thin is fat, in is out, fast is slow. Topsy’s at the bottom and she doesn’t know how to get back up.
Mary Poppins has a lesson for her.
Well, you say woe, but I say lucky you!….
It’s good to get a different point of view!….
When you change the view from where you stood
The things you view will change for good (from “Turning Turtle”)
LOOK FOR THE LIGHT (and bear the flame)
The children are lost in a dark alley, and they don’t know where they are. Jack finds them and tells them to change their gloomy attitudes. “Trip a little light fantastic with me,” he invites them.
I really can’t rave about this song enough. Not only is it a reminder to look for the light, but it’s an anthem for Christians everywhere to bear the flame, await Christ’s coming, and be a Leerie (lamplighter) bringing light to others.
I’m a Leerie now.
When you’re alone in your room
Your choice is just embrace the gloom
Or you can trip a little light fantastic with me
For if you hide under the covers you might never see the day
But if a spark can start inside your heart
Then you can always find the way….
So when life is getting scary, be your own illuminary
Who can shine their light for all the world to see….
A Leerie loves the edge of night
Though dim, to him the world looks bright
He’s got the gift of second sight….
A Leerie’s job’s to light the way
To take the night and make it day
We mimic the moon, yes, that’s our aim
For we’re the keepers of the flame!
And if you’re deep inside a tunnel and there is no end in sight
Well, just carry on until the dawn
It’s darkest right before the light!….
So when troubles are incessant, simply be more incandescent
For your light comes with a lifetime guarantee! (from “Trip a Little Light Fantastic”)
At the end of the musical movie, the characters have an opportunity to share a magical experience with each other – adults and children alike. I won’t spoil it for you, but it is truly amazing.
And finally, Michael, Jane, and the other adults get a chance to remember. To make their lives better. To go on, really changed.
We’ll all hit the heights if we never look down
Let the past take a bow, the forever is now
And there’s nowhere to go but up (from “Nowhere to Go But Up”)
ratings and recommendation
Filming: 9/10. I’m by no means a movie expert, and I don’t understand everything about filming, but I think this one was done pretty well. Some scenes in particular strike me as gorgeous, and the colors and sets are marvelous.
Plot: 9/10. A few incidents don’t make sense, but the story as a whole is interesting, and the events flow into each other well.
Lyrics: 9.5/10. There are a couple of lines I have a minor quibble with, but overall, I was completely amazed. I didn’t know that so much truth and beauty and goodness was allowed to make its way into a mainstream movie.
Music: 10/10. Okay, it wasn’t actually perfect. Nothing is (as a boy I babysat recently reminded me). But it was lovely, and as I wasn’t paying attention to the soundtrack the entire way through, what I did hear fit well. The tunes of the songs are quite catchy and fun as well.
Worldbuilding: 8/10. Some things could’ve been explained better (but then, isn’t that the nature of Mary Poppins? To not explain?).
Mature content: basically none. There’s brief reference to someone being “on the sauce,” and a couple holds hands.
Morals/theme: 9/10. And that’s pretty high for a movie made in the last decade or so.
Age recommendation: 4 and up (but please, everyone, see this fantastic movie!).
WHAT YOU SHOULD DO
You don’t have to do any of this. But, well, I think you should. First, if you haven’t watched the movie, watch it. (To those who think they won’t like it: give it a chance, people. I didn’t think I’d like plenty of things that I now love.)
And then go back and watch Mary Poppins (if you haven’t, to see the original; if you have and didn’t like it, to see if your opinions have changed since you watched the sequel; if you have and did like it, to relive old memories in light of the new one).
But if you have watched it already?
- Tell me what you thought. I’d love to chat.
- Watch it again (optional but highly recommended).
- Watch Mary Poppins (for the above reasons).
- Watch/read/listen to Hamilton (by Lin-Manuel Miranda), if you’re 13 or older, because it’s also awesome.
- Go the Rabbit Room (rabbitroom.com) and check out Jennifer Trafton’s article about Mary Poppins and Bruce Springsteen. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.
- Try out the Rabbit Room’s podcast called “Fixed In Post” and listen to their episode about their favorite movies of 2018. (You can skip closer to the end if you just want to hear about Mary Poppins Returns).
- Watch these movies that remind me of Mary Poppins Returns:
- The Sound of Music. Julie Andrews, singing children, and Austria? It’s a simply delicious combination. One of my favorite things.
- La La Land. Its visuals are stunning, its story is compelling, and its songs remind me why I dare to try to write and act and make music. Why I dream.
- Christopher Robin. Also by Disney last year, and it reminds me of Mary Poppins Returns in its style, theme, and perfect ending. (Don’t listen to Pete Peterson. It’s great.)
- Get the soundtrack and listen to it. On repeat.
- Share the movie with your friends!
This is now one of my favorite movies of all time. And I’ll let you go with one of my favorite quotes from it.
Jane, I remember! It’s all true! Every impossible thing we imagined with Mary Poppins! It all happened! (from “There’s Nowhere to Go But Up”)
Listen, everyone. We believe some pretty impossible things. A dead man lived again and still lives two thousand years later; he will come and raise us from the dead; we’ll live forever too. That’s just a few of them.
But you know what? Every impossible thing we imagine and believe and remember and doubt –
It all happened.
It’s all true.