Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Mary Poppins Returns


I challenged myself to get through this review without using the word supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, like every other reviewer has done … only I just screwed up, didn’t I? Oh, well. You know what surprised me, though? My spellchecker didn’t flag it. So I experimented, changing one letter at random … and it was flagged! Clicked on it, and was shown the correct spelling. So the word has entered into the language, or at least into the Word 2013 dictionary. Super … cool. Super cool, not that other super word …

I went in expecting the best, but with just a little bit of worry, considering all the reviews that had dismissed it as a noble failure, at best, and an abortion at worst. The new songs came in for the most flak. “Not up to the Sherman brothers’ classics,” it was said. Well, I didn’t expect them to be. I didn’t want to do comparisons like that, and I’m happy to say I succeeded. I took them on their own terms, 54 years later.

And they were great! I loved them all. (Well, not all equally, but I could say the same of the original songbook.) In fact, I loved every minute of this many-years-later sequel. I loved Lin-Manuel Miranda taking the Dick Van Dyke … not the role, he’s a lamplighter, but he fills the same spot in the dramatic lineup. I loved Emily Mortimer and Ben Whishaw as the grown-up Jane and Michael, taking the David Tomlinson and Glynis Johns spots. The children are even better than the kids in the original, which was no surprise. We know a lot more about getting good performances from children these days than we did in 1964. (The girl, Annabel Banks, is played by a girl with the delightful name of Pixie Davies.)

Colin Firth is nicely nasty as the vile banker who wants to foreclose on 17 Cherry Tree Lane, and Meryl Streep is a goofy woman sort of like Ed Wynn in the original. Angela Lansbury is delightful, arriving in the last scene selling balloons. And of course there is Dick Van Dyke, dancing on a desktop, wonderfully sprightly for a 92-year-old man.

But most of all I loved Emily Blunt as Mary. She’s not Julie Andrews, and wisely decided not to try to be. For one thing, Julie is a soprano and Emily is an alto. She retains all the best things about Julie’s Mary, while adding a nice bit of acerbity of her own. I think P.L. Travers would have liked her better than she did Andrews.

So there is the cast. I’ve used a lot of superlatives, and now I have to get into the other two best things in the movie: the music and the animation. As I said, I feel the songs are as good as the old ones. No point in naming them all, but the ones I feel stood out are “The Royal Doulton Music Hall” and “Trip a Little Light Fantastic.”

The first is played during what might be the most stunning animated sequence I’ve ever seen. It is the parallel of the animated scene in Mary Poppins, where they all jump into a chalk painting and end up in a cartoon world. At the time it was state-of-the-art, and it still looks damn good. But in this … the children have cracked a “priceless” Royal Doulton bowl, so Mary spins it and they are surrounded by bluebirds that fly off the bowl, and then drawn into another cartoon. And here … somehow the animators have managed to combine 3D humans with 2D characters and sets, totally seamlessly. Not only that, but the animation has been done in the distinctive style used in the original, and in contemporary animated features like One Hundred and One Dalmatians, The Sword in the Stone, The Jungle Book, The Aristocats, Robin Hood, Oliver and Company, and The Great Mouse Detective. Ordinarily I wouldn’t think of that as a good thing, because many of those are far from Disney’s best, coming just before the Disney Renaissance that began with The Little Mermaid. But it works perfectly here, because it reflects the vision in the original.

There must have been a dozen times when I caught myself thinking “I wish Walt could see this!” He was about as high-tech as they come, and I know he would have embraced all the new technology that makes movie magic like this possible.

So that is the visual part. The content is even better. Blunt and Miranda really shine here, doing a medley of music hall numbers with great flair and humor, especially when you consider that they were playing against a flat green background, stepping onto green-covered surfaces at different heights. There is a great chase at the end.

The other animated sequence begins when the children and Mary dive into a sudsy bathtub and enter an underwater world. It is dazzling, but doesn’t really break any new ground.

And last, but by far not least, is the big acrobatic dance number with the lamplighters, many of them on bicycles. It recalls “Chim Chim Cher-ee” with all the chimney sweeps dancing on the rooftops of London. It is huge, and extremely well done.

At Oscar time it’s unlikely that we will have seen many of the nominees, and it is not a lock that the film will be nominated for anything. But Emily Blunt’s performance is Oscar-worthy, there’s no question of that.*** All in all, I believe this is the best film of 2018 … that I have seen. It’s the one I have enjoyed the most. I am very glad that I elected to see it in Portland’s terrific little Roseway Theater, on the big screen. I buy very few DVDs new, but I intend to get this one and watch it again. And again.

***(Later, Oscar noms are out, and Mary Poppins Returns was majorly snubbed. It was nominated for Best Make-up, Song, Score, and Production Design. And I know I shouldn’t care, Oscars are only the film industry patting itself on the back, but why is it that year after year, the same handful of films get virtually all the nominations? I mean, come on. Do you really think that BlacKkKlansman, Bohemian Rhapsody, The Favourite, Green Book, and Vice were the five best-edited films of 2018? No, it’s just the Academy members piling on the nominations. You would think that every year only about eight or nine good films, were made, and that’s not the case.)