• Mel Jones

Kites and Ballons: Review Mary Poppins Returns

I saw Mary Poppins Returns yesterday and I have mixed emotions. Mary Poppins was my favorite movie growing up. And as an adult it still is in the top three. She was my hero: gutsy, not afraid of anything, in control of every situation; obviously practically perfect in every way. Obviously. The original preached feminism, suffrage, independence, strength. It portrayed women as heroes, movers and shakers. It showed life as the greatest adventure:

In every job that must be done There is an element of fun You find the fun and snap! The job's a game

Words to live by. Words that shaped who I am as much as The Monkees' Theme and Shades of Gray; as much as Let It Be and Imagine; as much as Emerson's Self Reliance or American Scholar; Shakespeare. It was foundational to who I have become. Mary Poppins taught me about inner strength, courage, and adventurousness long before Bilbo Baggins had an Unexpected Party (at least in my imagination) or told Frodo, "It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to." Sidewalk chalk drawings, or Dalton bowls. Before I fell in love with Faramir or Strider, Mary Poppins taught me to not judge a person by his or her appearance or bank account.

Some mighty big shoes to fill there, Disney! Mighty big. Dick Van Dyke’s bad English accent and all. I was offended when I first heard the film was being made. I was happier when I discovered it was a sequel and not a remake, but still ambivalent.

Don’t fuck with Mary Poppins. For the love of God, just don’t.

But they made the movie, good cast, granddaughter who wanted to see it. Damn it. So, we went, on New Years’ Eve. The theater was almost full of young girls and moms, grandmoms. Some dads, clearly outside of their comfort zones (Mary Poppins would be proud of them).

It was clear from the beginning that the cast understood they had big shoes to fill. At times, it felt as though they were trying too hard. Scene for scene the film echoed the essence of its predecessor. Jack isn’t a chimney sweep, but a lamp-lighter, or leary—still on the edges of society. We have a trip into a bowl rather than a sidewalk painting. A bedtime song. And Mary visits a crazy cousin rather than a crazy uncle. We end with balloons rather than kites and a song encouraging freedom of thought and action. The message in each scene exemplifies the original. The missing scene is Sister Suffragette, no usurping of the patriarchy, a missed opportunity in the year of the woman.

Jane and Michael are all grown up. They, Michael in particular, are adulting. They have forgotten, or disbelieve, the magic of their childhood. And as Mary Poppins saved their dad, now she must save them. The message is intact. The movie is filled with homages to both the first film and the books—you knew the story was a series of books first, right? Cameos to touch the heart, including one by Karen Dotrice, the original Jane. I would like you to know that at 93 Dick Van Dyke still dances better than I ever could.

Maybe if I hadn’t seen the original; maybe if I were younger; maybe if Blunt and Miranda weren’t in the shadow of the talents of the original; maybe if I didn’t know that kites are more durable than balloons; maybe then I would have fallen in love with the return. I liked it, enjoyed it. I’d even see it again. But it’s not the Mary Poppins that fueled my independence and dreams. If I hadn’t Step(ped) in Time I would likely have Tripped the Light Fantastic.

I think perhaps I will see it again and consciously remove my bias, the story deserves that. Go see it, leave your baggage at home, even bottomless carpet bags.

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