The words “instant classic” are thrown around pretty quickly these days. And, unfortunately, I am sure that I have hastily typed out the phrase during a recent review.
The phrase is a piecrust promise: “Easily made, easily broken.”
But sometimes hyperbole is the only way to go; after all, “Why complicate things that are really quite simple?”
Mary Poppins Returns is “practically perfect in every way.”
The road to this diagnosis was not straight.
I have trouble watching the original in one sitting; feeling that Mary Poppins’ pacing is leisurely for this modern viewer. Although it is placed high on my list, it is NOT my favorite of Walt Disney’s films.
So, when I saw Leonard Maltin’s assessment of Mary Poppins Returns, I was not emotionally offended, just curious:
As a result, I headed to the cineplex with low expectations, but very high hopes.
Having interviewed Lin-Manuel Miranda (before Hamilton), and owning the pleasure of seeing him perform, I had no doubts that he was up to the task. Emily Blunt headlines many of my favorite films, as well.
But could today’s “Jack” and “Mary” live up to the legendary Dick Van Dyke and Julie Andrews? The simple answer is “yes.”
Without fundamentally changing the character, Blunt made Mary her own.
This “Mary Poppins” is a real, but reluctant, superhero, walking (and flying) through London confidently, often with her coat flapping in the breeze like a cape.
Cross the bravado of the MCU’s Tony Stark with the reluctant heroism of Steve Rogers, and you have a pale male imitation of Poppins. Our hero breaks her own rules of etiquette reluctantly even as she displays swagger that would make Deadpool blush.
Which is apropos, because Mary Poppins Returns is not a simple kids movie or forgettable family fare. Sure, the entire brood will enjoy the exploits of the children, of Jack (Miranda is, of course, up to the task) and The Leerys (look it up), and of Mary, herself.
But the real drama rests in the test of a father, Michael Banks, as an adult. Played by Ben Whishaw, Mr. Banks’ struggle to overcome grown-up tragedy while Mary Poppins teaches the children to be “kids” is the crux of the film.
I quietly cried several times, even as my 8-year-old gazed in wonder at the screen.
Where Christopher Robin — a film I genuinely enjoyed — fell short, Mary Poppins Returns soars. The clear message (which I’ll leave to you to discern) resonated with me, and Mary’s exploits and advice rattled around my head for most of the ensuing 24 hours.
Most wishes are discrete; I don’t believe that folks are consistently asking for a million dollars when a coin goes into the well. Instead, there are very personal hopes and dreams that ride with that penny.
So, even as Michael Banks seeks to keep his world intact — desperately hoping for ways to keep his home, family, and sanity intact — his real hope is far more simple.
And, as Blunt’s Mary Poppins explained: “Nothing’s gone forever, only out of place.”
Is the film perfect? No (More Jane, please). But do I think audiences will be watching Mary Poppins Returns for generations? Yes.
Mary Poppins Returns. Indeed.
Five stars is insufficient.