Look, Mary Poppins Returns is a Mary Poppins movie, which shouldn’t come as a surprise to you if you just read the fucking title of it. There’s a sequence where Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) and Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda) dance with a bunch of animated characters. There’s silly, surreal sequences involving bathtubs and balloons. There’s a lot of singing. There’s a whole big number where a bunch of working class London dudes dance and do some BMX stunts, except this time around they’re “leeries” instead of chimney sweeps. It’s approximately thirty years into the future of the first Mary Poppins, so Michael Banks has his own kids and Jane Banks gets to wear trousers.
Plot-wise, and the plot isn’t terribly complicated because it’s there to hold all the musical numbers together, it’s about Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw) trying to save his family house after his wife has died and he’s been bad about keeping up the bills while caring for their three children. It’s during the Great Slump (aka the Great Depression in the UK) so he doesn’t exactly have a lot of job options; he works part-time as a teller for an evil banker played by Colin Firth, who is the same guy who wants to repossess Michael’s house. Mary Poppins shows up to reignite the joy in the family and incidentally help them not lose their home.
It’s like the original Mary Poppins, but a bit more pacey. Lin-Manuel MIranda gets to do a tiny bit of rap, even though he had nothing to do with the lyrics, which we can all breathe a sigh of relief about. I mean, it’s just really nice? And suitable for small children? And very colorful. The costume design was really great, especially what they did during the animated sequence.
Really, it’s all cute wrapping paper for the fact that Mary Poppins is a terrifying eldritch being that descends to earth once a generation, spreads a particular kind of madness around, and then leaves once she is on the receiving end of enough laughter from people whose reality she’s utterly broken. Okay, look:
- She descends to earth from the heavens in a terrifying shadow, one foot cocked up as if about to tap impatiently because it’s been so long since she’s had some delicious mortal souls.
- She spends all of her time taking the kids on strange adventures that, when the children try to describe them later, she tells them that of course these things didn’t happen.
- She bends reality around herself. Mirrors don’t respond properly, etc.
- There’s an entire song she sings (while in the trippy cartoon realm) about not judging a book by its cover. Sure, it’s a warning about Douchebag McBankerface, but more importantly, she’s delivering a winking warning about herself. Don’t judge her by her charming exterior when it’s actually just a flesh bag that contains an unending sea of glittery, chthonic madness.
- At the end of this film, Angela Lansbury gives her a fucking bright red balloon like she’s fucking Pennywise the Clown because JESSICA FLETCHER KNOWS WHAT’S FUCKING UP
But come on, it’s not like any of this is a surprise if you saw the first movie. It’s very consistent. The one thing that isn’t consistent, that’s still bothering the heck out of me, is an almost throw-away line at the end of the film. I guess count it as a SPOILER if you’re really concerned.
Here’s the situation: Michael Banks has realized the bank stock certificate that he’s been searching for, which will allow him to save his house for… handwavey reasons… has been there all along. He drew a picture on the back of it and threw it away. Then his son cut it up and used it to repair a kite that’s a nice callback to the first movie. They reconstruct the certificate and discover… the bit with the signature is missing, which means it doesn’t matter after all.
Then Dick Van Dyke shows up, playing the evil banker’s old uncle. He sends Colin Firth packing and assures Michael that the house is fine because of the stock and “I’m a rich guy that owns this bank” reasons. Okay, still there, even if it really undercuts what is a pretty good casting of bankers as villains that rings pretty damn true today–I guess the only way to be saved from an evil rich guy is to be liked by a nice rich guy. But I digress.
Then Dick Van Dyke basically says, oh by the way you have a ton of money all of a sudden, because remember that tuppence we took from you in the first film? We invested it and it grew over thirty years.
I have several problems with this.
- The whole fucking point in the first film was that Michael didn’t let them have his tuppence. He made such a fuss about wanting it back that he caused a run on the bank, FFS. And then it’s pretty clearly stated that he took his tuppence and bought paper and string so he could make the kite that he flies at the end… and which reappears in this film.
- This is the middle of the Great Depression. What the hell did they invest it in that it had this kind of return and didn’t devalue during the depression?
- THE WHOLE GODDAMN POINT WAS THAT MICHAEL GOT TO SPEND HIS MONEY ON A FRIVOLOUS THING IN THE FIRST MOVIE BECAUSE HE WAS A FUCKING KID AND SHOULD GET TO ACT LIKE ONE, AND SUDDENLY IT’S ALL ‘FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY’ HEY KIDS INVEST YOUR KITE MONEY SO IN THIRTY YEARS YOU CAN SAVE YOUR HOUSE FROM BEING FORECLOSED ON BY AN UNETHICAL DIRTBAG?
What bothers me the most is that it’s such a throw-away line and it didn’t need to happen. Mary Poppins Returns runs on fridge logic, as it should. The house was saved several times over before that whole line got thrown in there. So what was the point of it? Why take Michael’s victory out of his own hands and hand it over to a nicer rich banker, who then basically delivers a message about how Michael shouldn’t have been such a little shit about them wanting to invest his money in the first movie because it turned out the grownups were right?
I know I’m getting really exercised about this, but it’s just such a goddamn whiplash in what was otherwise a Mary Poppins movie being a total Mary Poppins movie, which is to say a cute way to spend two hours when you’re hanging out with a grade schooler and want some warm nostalgia fuzzies on the side.