So much of this Poppins chick, and so little time before people get bored with me and go fly a kite. I have spent time reading Mary Poppins Comes Back by author P.L. Travers (the book Mary Poppins Returns is based upon) where our dear nanny continues to terrorize the children while admiring herself in every reflection. Oh, sure, there are a lot of adventures, and once she even goes into a Royal Doulton bowl to rescue a child she abandoned, but don’t expect any hugs or sentiment, kiddies. What does she look like, a human or something?
As I mentioned briefly last time, the books are definitely a departure from what are now two Disney movies, though both movies pull from the books, Returns taking more than the former. Last weekend Thing One and I watched a matinee of Mary Poppins Returns. We literally had the entire theater to ourselves which is just as I like it. People do so ruin a movie theater experience.
What I find strange are the reactions to this sequel. Some people seem downright offended by it, as if Disney were trying to replace Julie Andrews or Dick Van Dyke, both of whom are still alive, though a wee bit old for the parts now. (Dick Van Dyke did play the role of an old banker man in the sequel as he did the first time, though they didn’t need as much old man makeup this time.) So you end up seeing online magazine and Youtube reviews with headings like this: “‘Mary Poppins Returns’ Review: A Truck Full of Sugar Can’t Make This Uplift Go Down.” Thank you, New York Times, you big snots. We also find pics pitting Julie against Emily in what must be a fight to the death.
The above picture came from The Guardian which asked the question “Is Mary Poppins a feminist?” because . . . that was what the movies were totally about? No, the real issue is the supposed competition. It’s clearly not okay to like both versions, for different reasons. Yet they are going to be compared anyway, so I’ll try a comparison between both movies and the book, from specific scenes. If the second movie is a repeat of the first, it is only because the second book is also a repeat of the first, as you’ll see.
Sweeps vs Leeries: The original Mary Poppins movie had lovable Bert, the chimney sweep who stayed positive no matter what degrading job you gave him, or how many times Mary Poppins put him in the friend zone. He sings the songs “Chim-chim-cheree”, an opening number later reprised, as well as the show (and heart) stopping number “Step in Time.” The amount of dancing, acrobatics, singing, and insane never-ending chaos is quite impressive, especially considering Dyke had no formal dance training. It’s surprising no British families expressed annoyance at their constant dancing on their rooftops, but then again, there was a scary amount of chimney sweeps in London at that time.
Mary Poppins Returns gives us Jack, Bert’s former apprentice turned lamp-lighter (or Leerie) played by Lin Manuel Miranda of Hamilton fame. Instead of a Chimney Sweep mafia, now Leerie gangs roam the streets, lighting lamps while flying upside down on anachronistic bicycles. Or so they say. I bet Mary Poppins just invented the bicycles herself and gave them to the Leeries on the condition that they attempt to kill themselves for her entertainment just like the sweeps did. They do a fine job trying with “Trip a Little Light Fantastic”, the sequel’s answer to “Step in Time”. He also opens the movie with “The Lovely London Sky”, which might be more of an anachronism than the bicycles since I’m fairly sure that London’s been polluted a long time. One disturbing detail: a commenter on one review I read said “It makes sense that Jack was Bert’s apprentice as a child, since the kids could slide down in small places easier”. Nice thing to think about, Bert dropping Jack down chimneys with a reassuring “Chim-Chim-Cheerie, kiddo!”
The Books: While Bert does appear in the first book, it’s only for a chapter, and it’s just Mary Poppins and him, no kids. Bert is actually a combination of several characters mentioned briefly in the books, and I imagine Jack must be as well, though there is no Jack in the book Mary Poppins Comes Back.
Bird Lady vs Balloon Lady
The Bird Lady appears in the first Mary Poppins movie along with the heart-breaking song “Feed the Birds”. Mary summons her through a snow globe, and the kids see her later on the steps, but never get to give her their tuppence, which goes to the bankers who outright take it from little Micheal who throws a fit about his money being stolen. This leads to people going insane and withdrawing money, even if they weren’t in the building while the child was yelling. Later when the father walks by the steps, she isn’t there, leading you to believe she’s probably dead, though luckily I missed this as a kid. I still say she could have taken a day off, you know.
Fun fact: Walt found this 90 something year old lady and dragged her onto the set to play the Bird Woman just before she died.
Mary Poppins Returns gives us the Balloon Lady, played by Angela Landsbury who can just do anything she wants, and you will love her. She hands out balloons that take people up in the air as she sings the song “Nowhere to Go but Up”, sort of the theme song of this presidential administration. It’s much like the song “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” from Mary Poppins as it ends the movie on a happy high note. Returns gives us more than one answer to the tear-jerker “Feed the Birds” with “The Conversation” where a now grown Micheal talks about his dead wife (yes the dead mom Disney curse is present here) as well as “The Place Where the Lost Things Go” a lullaby that Mary Poppins sings, also about dead mom who is apparently in the same place where Mary lost her favorite spoon. Even though I love both these songs and they made me cry in the theater, I still wonder: does that mean my socks are in Heaven?
Fun fact: Micheal’s tuppence plays a role in the conclusion of Mary Poppins Returns, so, um, without too many spoilers, it’s basically good thing he didn’t give his money to that Bird Woman after all! So – not giving to charity is good?
The Books: There is a short chapter in the original Mary Poppins about the Bird Lady, and interestingly, this is not a lesson that Mary teaches at all. Surprise! Mary hates birds and unlike Julie, she sure as heck doesn’t sing to them. The children give tuppence to the Bird Woman in order to feed the birds all on their own. The birds swarm Mary and steal a flower from Mary’s hat and put it on the Bird Woman’s hat. Mary gets seriously ticked off about this whole thing, and waves the birds away while snapping “You ought to be in a pie – that’s where you ought to be!”. I’m kind of surprised she didn’t assault the Bird Woman for her flower back.
The Balloon Woman does appear in the book’s sequel, though she gives balloons that lift people to the skies to Mary Poppins and the children only and not the father as well. They do get their names printed on them magically, so that’s cool and all.
I could go on forever with the comparisons, but I’ll try to sum up the rest quickly. While Mary and Bert and kids jump into a drawing for “Jolly Holiday”, a number filled with 2-D animation, Mary, Jack and kids jump into a china bowl for “A Cover is Not the Book”, a number filled with 2-D animation, and a surprising amount of innuendo as Mary changes into that chick from Chicago. The drawing is in the first Mary Poppins book, and the bowl in the second, though the stories are different. Mary goes into the drawing with Bert alone in the book, while in the movie she just abandons the kids for some alone time with Bert. In the book Mary Poppins Comes Back, Jane is kidnapped into the bowl and rescued by Mary Poppins while in the movie – okay the kids are kidnapped again but save each other. Mary Poppins also has insane relatives in both movies and the books, so at least in some ways she’s kind of like us. Well, us if everything in the universe, including us, thought we were fantastic.
Mary Poppins vs Mary Poppins Returns
What are the major differences between the Marys? Tone definitely is different, as the mother is dead in the second version rather than just a dim wit that leaves the children with a dirty chimney sweep she has never met (Bert) so that she can get to her suffragette meeting. The sequel also takes place 30 years after the first, and involves Jane and the widowed Micheal and his children. No word on Mr. and Mrs. Banks, so I suppose they were six-feet under too. Time passes much more slowly in the books which always involve the same Banks children, though there are five children instead of two. The mother is still incapable of parenting though. Judging by the memories of the mother in Mary Poppins Returns, that mother was actually competent, which was probably why they had to kill her.
The stakes are definitely higher, for while there was no real villain in the first movie – unless you count the father’s bosses who sack him only to rehire him hours later – there are villains in the sequel. The boss of the bank is a rather over-the-top evil Colin Firth who personally wants to repossess the Banks’ house because having a dead wife was not enough punishment for poor Micheal. The children’s fantasy land even gets a villain at one point in a wolf representing the banker, so no relief there, kids. Mary only has to get the parents to pay a little more attention to the kids in the first, while she has to drag Micheal out of depression (Pish posh, she’s been dead a year, codfish!), get him to better appreciate the children, and help him keep his house. She sends poor Jack on top of Big Ben at one point to stop time when she could have easily done it herself. That’s Mary Poppins, for you. Prove your love to me that I may treat you crappy and leave!
Still, I do love Emily Blunt’s Mary Poppins. No, she’s not Julie Andrews, but she isn’t trying to imitate her. She has a delightful way of employing a constant use of sarcasm with the children, while artfully rolling her eyes. What kind of mother figure does that? Shut up, Thing One and Thing Two. I did enjoy Mary’s relationship with Bert more than her relationship with Jack. Lin Manuel Miranda is a great showman, and I enjoyed his numbers, but there was just a greater chemistry between the two leads in the first, in my opinion.
What about the songs? I loved every song in the first Mary Poppins. I’m not completely taken with every song in the second, though they grow on me as I listen to the soundtrack. One has to remember that the first Mary has had since 1964 to shove songs into our brain. My favorite so far is “Can You Imagine That?”, a song she sings to the children who have tried to become mini adults in the wake of their mother’s passing. The oldest boy says he doesn’t take bubbles in his bath, and Mary snarks “Well I guess you’ll just have to a-vooooid them then.” Cue eyeroll.
I guess the best thing about both movies, and even the book, is that they encourage people to use their imagination and find the child, and the joy, they once knew. And here I was thinking that maybe I should be more adult like other moms and vacuum and cook and stuff instead of playing dolls with my kids, but it turns out I’m really just well-adjusted according to Mary Poppins. And Mary Poppins is never wrong.