We’ve had enough nanny movies about mischievous children. Mary Poppins Returns shows us that the well-behaved kids need help, too.
Mary Poppins Returns is an absolutely stunning movie, and should be the new model that studios look to when making a sequel to a very old film. The casting was excellent, with actors that perfectly capture the spirit of the 1930s, and the songs were beautiful and reminiscent of the songs from the original. Even the artistic style of the original film was kept (although with a few tweaks for a modern audience, like the introductory scene before the super long credits at the start of the movie, presumably so kids stay engaged.)
It’s an outstanding success for Disney all around, but particularly because of how they took the original story and complemented it with the sequel, creating a similar set of circumstances so that we can see Mary Poppins work her magic, but with a twist.
In this film, the Banks children are very different from their father and aunt in Mary Poppins: they are responsible, clever, and very thoughtful, holding up the household while the adults in the home flail around trying to solve problems. They are so wrapped up in the big issues that govern their lives, that they have little time to play like their father once had.
I found this to be one of the best elements of the movie. The fact is that the cliché of the mischievous kids who need to be disciplined by a loving authority figure isn’t everyone’s reality: many children, especially in difficult times like the Great Depression, bore a heavy weight of responsibility for their families.
And the Banks aren’t the only ones. They are still in a very affluent section of society, despite their financial troubles in this movie. Many, many more children were probably working jobs, as is proven from Jack’s anecdote about working as a chimneysweep under Bert back in the original Mary Poppins.
Even more profoundly, the Banks family is still grappling with the death of their mother. While the initial shock of the grief is gone, and the children seem to have adjusted as well as they can in their loving household, one of Mary Poppins’ most important actions is to comfort them, allowing them to have a moment to remember their mother and feel safe despite her absence, even in the precarious moment their family is in.
Mary Poppins comes not to bring discipline to lovable yet mischievous children, but to give the children a chance to be their age, immerse themselves in their imagination, go on fun adventures together, and feel the loss of their mother in a safe and comforting environment. Through her characteristic reserved attitude and stern façade, she manages to pull them away from the worries of the adults and instead approach life with a more joyful, even silly attitude – although, of course, they do solve the family problems together at the end of the day.
Mary Poppins Returns does an excellent job of making the three children well-rounded characters that don’t have to fit a certain stereotype to be engaging. Georgie is mischievous, yes, but he isn’t wildly out of control — in fact, he’s the most tender of the three. Anabel is clever and matter-of-fact, but she isn’t bossy or the most affectionate of the three. And John might be the oldest boy, but he isn’t the “leader.” Instead, the three siblings function as a normal family would, with their own little quirks and interests… and it’s impossible not to love them.
Through both its historical roots and the behavior of the children, Mary Poppins Returns sets Georgie, Anabel and John up as capable agents of change in the story — even if, as we know from the first film, the biggest change of all will be seen in the adults.
Bringing more drama into a story — such as a family death, a carriage chase, multiple villains and a serious financial crisis — doesn’t usually work out for established classics. Usually, added drama seems to cheapen a story, and drowns out the sweetness of a childhood classic. In this case, however, things went very differently.
Maybe it was Emily Blunt’s spot-on depiction of Mary Poppins (I accepted her from the second I saw her), or Lin-Manuel Miranda’s heartwarming singing, or the amazing performances by Pixie Davies, Nathanael Saleh and Joel Dawson, or just the overall tone of the film… but Disney actually did it: they made a sequel that is indisputably worthy of the first movie, upped the dramatic stakes, and made us love all the characters even more.
Best of all, they gave us a very realistic depiction of children going through a difficult moment in their lives, and who manage to find inspiration and happiness even in the darkest of times.