Movie Review: 'Mary Poppins Returns'

A family in crisis is rescued by a mysterious nanny who expects nothing in return
Photo courtesy of Walt Disney Studio Pictures
Mary Poppins (played by Emily Blunt) is stern and reserved on the outside, yet warm-hearted and child-like on the inside. She is a nanny for Georgie (Joel Dawson,) Annabel (Pixie Davies,) and John (Nathanael Saleh,)

"Mary Poppins Returns" is a sequel to the Oscar-winning 1964 film. It’s one of the longest gaps between film sequels in cinematic history at 54 years. This time, Mary Poppins comes back to the Banks family in London, approximately 25 years after the events of the original film. Mary Poppins was the former nanny of Jane and Michael Banks, and now she returns to find a grownup Michael with three children. Michael’s wife has passed away a year earlier and their home is in danger of being repossessed. Mary Poppins offers to be a nanny to the Banks children and get the house in order.

The Story

The story begins in 1935, with a lamplighter named Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda) who rides his bike around town, singing about London’s beauty despite the “Great Slump” or depression. Jack rides down Cherry Tree Lane where the elderly Admiral Boom (David Warner) complains to Mr. Binnacle (Jim Norton) that Big Ben's chimes are coming in late. (You may remember the Admiral from the original "Mary Poppins"). During the daytime, the admiral shoots his cannon every hour to mark the time. 

Meanwhile, Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw) lives in his childhood home with his children John (Nathanael Saleh), Annabel (Pixie Davies) and Georgie (Joel Dawson). Michael’s wife has passed away, and now his sister Jane (Emily Mortimer) is helping to raise the children, but the Banks’ household is falling apart. Water pipes break and flood the kitchen. Housekeeper Ellen (Julie Walters) is getting older and more forgetful. Michael is an illustrator who works part-time as a bank teller in order to make ends meet. Michael has also has taken out a loan, and he’s three months behind on payments.

Two lawyers from the bank, Hamilton Gooding (Jeremy Swift) and Templeton Frye (Kobna Holdbrook-Smith), show up to leave a notice of repossession on the front door. They explain that Michael’s house will be repossessed by the bank unless he repays the loan by Friday at midnight. Michael remembers that his father kept a certificate of ownership for shares in the bank, which could help him pay off the loan, but he can’t seem to find them. Meanwhile, the bank's greedy president, Mr. Wilkins (Colin Firth) schemes to repossess Michael's house. 

On a windy day, Mary Poppins appears through the clouds, flying down from the sky, carrying her umbrella and suitcase. Using her imagination and a little bit of magic, Mary Poppins manages to save the day, along with Jack the lamplighter and his friends. 

What Parents Should Know 

I watched the movie with a 7-year-old girl, her mother and grandmother. The theater was packed, almost every seat filled, and the audience burst into applause as the ending credits rolled across the screen.

The movie is rated PG by the MPAA for some “mild thematic elements and brief action.” One aspect of the plot is that the Banks family is in danger of losing their home. It’s a place of safety and refuge for them, but now a corrupt banker threatens to repossess their home. As a villain, the banker is two-faced. He is friendly and sympathetic to Michael when face-to-face, but behind his back, the banker schemes to take away the family's home. He is an authority figure who can’t be trusted.  

There is an animated scene where the children jump into a porcelain bowl that’s sitting on the fireplace mantle. The scene is a mix of cartoon fantasy and realism, as the characters watch Mary Poppins and Jack the Lamplighter hop on stage and sing “A Cover is Not the Book” at the Royal Doulton Music Hall. Off stage, little Georgie sees some cartoon characters load a wagon with his family’s possessions. (The cartoon fox represents the banker who threatens to repossess the family's home). When Georgie sees the fox and his nemeses loading the wagon, he tries to stop them. The wagon drives off, with Georgie caught inside. It’s a little unsettling that Georgie is kidnapped. They also drive through a spooky dark wooded area. There is some peril, danger and suspense that might frighten young children.  

There also is some sadness in the film as Georgie, Anabel and John struggle with the loss of their mother. In one scene, Georgie wakes up after having a nightmare. Mary Poppins comforts him and his siblings as they miss their mother, assuring them that she lives on in their hearts. There is an also a touching scene where the dad is crying about how much he misses his wife, and how the house has fallen apart without her. The dad tells the children that their mother is “where the lost things go” and they can keep her memory alive in their hearts. Mary Poppins ultimately helps the children find joy and wonder that’s missing in their lives after they lose their mother. 

Final Take 

Mary Poppins is a good example for children because she gives without expecting anything in return. There is nothing manipulative about her generosity. She has no ulterior motives. When Mary Poppins arrives, the family is in crisis. When she leaves, everything is in order. She has a fun time with the children and eases everyone's distress.

Mary Poppins is a layered character in that she is stern and reserved on the outside, yet warm-hearted and child-like on the inside. Actress Emily Blunt shines in her performance, playing the character with sophistication and style. I also appreciate Jack the lamplighter, who lights up London in a dark time. He is optimistic and friendly, with an imaginative, child-like side to his personality. Actor Lin-Manuel Miranda gives an outstanding performance.

"Mary Poppins Returns” doesn’t stray too far from the tone of the first movie. The new songs include the film’s central ballad, “The Place Where Lost Things Go,” a lullaby performed by Mary Poppins; the boisterous music hall number with Mary Poppins and Jack “A Cover Is Not the Book;” “Underneath the Lovely London Sky,” the opening number performed by Jack and a love letter to the city itself; “Turning Turtle,” a show-stopping musical sequence performed by Mary’s eccentric cousin Topsy; “A Conversation,” a bittersweet song performed by Michael in which he tries to come to terms with his grief; and the buoyant finale “Nowhere to Go But Up.” 

"Mary Poppins Returns" is a unique treasure with whimsical songs and messages about the importance of family, using your imagination, showing gratitude and kindness, and not taking yourself so seriously that you forget to have fun. It's one of the best films that I've seen in a long time.