It is the pre-premiere of Mary Poppins returns and the theatre has prepared the venue to set the mood. There’s a red carpet, umbrellas, treats and cava. All ages are represented and people are dressed up as Mary Poppins and the banks family! (I didn’t get the memo on this one.) It just goes to show that the original movie is timeless and it speaks to all ages.
There’s a certain magic in the air, and the woman sitting next to me has nailed the Mary Poppins persona so hard that she’s floating around the cinema greeting the children that believe there is an actual nanny in our midst.
A foggy view of London rolls over the screen, we hear some new and yet very familiar notes, as Jack (played by Lin-Manuel Miranda) takes us through the opening sequence before we’re back in 17 cherry tree lane. The reception for a Mary Poppins sequel may run both hot and cold, myself, I heard Miranda was attached and dove straight into the hot pool. (Biased, me? Never!)
And yet I sit sceptical in my seat. I consider myself quite a creative and imaginative person, and still I’m having the hardest time imagining how this story is going to follow the original. This is the curse of sequels, and most people are in agreement that sequels, while they sell, they’re also usually quite disappointing. (My girl 2, Grease 2, Speed 2 and I’ll rest my case at that.)
The first scenes feed us the premise the movie will base it’s song and dance on. Jane (Emily Mortimer) and Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw) have now grown up and Michael has three children. After losing his wife, he has run into some money troubles and is about to lose the house we all know and love. We receive no further information on the deceased wife, she’s just a plot point to drive the story it seems and yet the songs hold her there in spirit. However, it’s difficult to conjure up some real empathy for a woman we’ve never met, seen or know anything about. Thankfully they don’t dwell too much on this. And suddenly the gray and windy London air changes completely as Mary Poppins descends from the sky like a ray of sunshine.
I remember how I felt seeing Mary Poppins for the first time, and I thought she was a little scary and cold. I didn’t really like her at all that much, but rather admired her with grave respect and distance. This is not the case now, Mary it seems has softened with age. She is much warmer as a person and isn’t quite so reluctant to have fun as she used to be, although her values are still intact. If this is good or bad, I can’t tell, but the child in me likes her better this way.
We dive right into bath time with the song “Can you imagine that?”, which can remind us of the original scene where the children find that their new nanny is quite magical, only now we have special effects to blow us away! And from here the scenes fall perfectly, one after the other, in beautiful homage to the movie in our hearts. They pulled out all the stops on this one, we can tell, not a penny was saved and not a corner was cut. We jump into bowls instead of paintings, instead of laughing our way up to the ceiling, Meryl Streep brings the ceiling down to us and instead of chim chim cher-eeing with the chimney sweepers, we trip a little light fantastic with the lamplighters.
All the numbers are nothing short of magical and rival their original counter numbers quite well, although it is hard to sell a number you’ve just heard next to a supercalifragilisticexpialidocious 50+ year old classic. However, there was one song I found had more depth and feeling than the original. We know the scene where the children won’t sleep and Mary sings them the slow tune “stay awake” to make them sleepy. This time around, the children are missing their lost mother at bedtime and Mary beautifully comforts them with “The place where lost things go”.
We meet some new friends and we get to see some old friends again. I recognized the penguins right away, but it took me a while to recognize Dick Van Dyke and I was a little disappointed that he wasn’t reprising as Burt, since they did in fact mention Burt in the beginning of the movie. And still, having a veteran tell the new cast memories of the old was priceless. He bound the two movies together and saved the day in more ways than one.
In the end, you could say the movie is quite predictable, because it mirrors the first movie so well and the plot isn’t exactly reinventing the wheel. And at the same time I was quite surprised at how well executed it was, and how much effort it takes to create something with so much affection and respect for its predecessor. It took all my self restraint to not clap after every musical number. The lyrics are all oh-so-quotable and the melodies while new, remind us of the old ones, with just as much heart and tempo. There is also some hidden old songs in the orchestral numbers, if you listen for it, you can hear it. All in all, with time I think you’ll find this movie in your heart, right next to the first one. And I know I’ll be singing “A cover is not the book” and “Nowhere to go but up” the rest of the year!