Mary Poppins Returns With A Vengeance


What is it about the woman’s name that causes Londoners to mangle their vowels and virtually decapitate themselves with their tongues? First we had Dick Van Dyke inventing a new language, and now we have Lin-Manuel Miranda strangling the life out of the OED in his role as cockney lamplighter. Only Don Cheadle ever attempted a more appalling British accent.

But for all that, MPR is a pretty sparkling entertainment, so much so that you forget it’s a note-for-note remake as much as a continuation of the original. The nanny is back, making a lump-in-the-throat arrival at the end of a kite string, and in place of Julie Andrews’ delicate English rose we have a more archly urban nanny, also with a peculiarly unplaceable accent.

Jane and Michael Banks have grown up and still live in the same Hampstead house with sprogs of their own. The threat this time is not father’s distance, but simple financial woes. Cue for MP to go to work anyway, whipping the kids off to an undersea world and into a china bowl. Dastardly Colin Firth plans to foreclose, Meryl Streep’s Cousin Topsy takes the place of Ed Wynn, who loved to laugh, and Angela Lansbury gamely revives memories of the lady who wants us to feed the birds. Dick Van Dyke pops in briefly and manages a (presumably CGI) high kick. Even Julie Walters crops up in the original’s housekeeper role, and in place of the chimneysweeps’ ‘Step In Time’ dance routine we now have the lamp-lighters’ ‘Trip A Little Light Fantastic’, during which the performers take a gatling gun to rhyming slang, making up words that never existed, except in the fevered brains of Hollywood executives who have only seen London from the windows of the Lanesborough Hotel.

Reviving memories is what this is all about; hardly a second of screen time passes without a loving, beautifully crafted homage. The original’s concept artwork is re-used, giving the London skyline a delightful patina reminiscent of childhood films. The songs, fewer this time, have the sound of authentic Sherman Brothers, and even provide a patter song to replicate ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’, sung with a hint of rap by Miranda.

It’s practically perfect in every way, but to see what could be done with the story, you need to have seen ‘Mary Poppins’ on stage in London or in Australia (it was revised for Broadway), where a much darker tale unfolded, explaining the root of Mr Banks’s coldness. That version boasted some great new songs, although they were un-Sherman-like.

If one can find any fault with something this highly polished, it does feel like a slightly airless and vengefully manufactured piece of ‘product’, but when I came out of the screening I strolled home through Bloomsbury, and the gouaches were still in my head as I looked at the surrounding lamps and chimney pots.

It’s always a good sign when a film has you looking at the world differently, even if it means I’ve fallen for America’s fantasy-version of London.

11 comments on “Mary Poppins Returns With A Vengeance”

  1. Jan says:

    The chimney sweep scene in the original made a massive impression on me as a kid living far far away up north.
    I read a book at school about a kid called Serena who floated up to the rooves of London
    on some upturned umbrella which I decided was a wonderful concept( l was only about 10.) ….then much later on I read a book
    called “Roofworld” which I liked so much about a decade or so after in read it I wrote to the author. Some stubborn bloke who doesn’t seem to be exactly cracking on with the sequel.

  2. davem says:

    @Jan 🙂

  3. davem says:

    @Jan very good closing comment 🙂

  4. Roger says:

    I attribute my own depravity to Julie Andrews.
    Like Bill Oddie, “I’ve been like this ever since I saw you in Mary Poppins. And you floated down with that crinoline spread out all around you, and I had an uncontrollable desire to.. to look up.”

  5. Wayne Mook says:

    Glad to hear that it works, some of the latest children’s films have been excellent, Incredibles 2 I enjoyed, and the Paddington films I’ve enjoyed as has the little one. I did miss Peter Rabbit, can’t think why.

    I hope the Watership Down on the Beeb at Christmas hits the spot.


  6. Ian Luck says:

    Thankfully, it was not possible to watch the film masquerading under the name ‘Peter Rabbit’ (or ‘My Homey Pete Does Some Tagging, Home Invasions, And Other Mad Shit’, as it was actually going to be called), due to the tremendously loud grinding sound that accompanied it. I found out later, that this was Beatrix Potter revolving very swiftly in her grave.

  7. Helen Martin says:

    The ads for the Mary Poppins are all over town. Perhaps I can drag my aching limbs out to see it.

  8. SteveB says:

    There’s a great interview with Richard Sherman to be found in Youtube, in case anyone is interested

  9. Bruce Rockwood says:

    Will have to see it. Did you see Saving Mr. Banks? Biographical approach to P.L. Travers life. If you like children’s films check out Wreck It Ralph II. Good fun.

  10. Peter Dixon says:

    Gouaches, London streetscape, English countryside – look at the original animated 101 Dalmations for incredible artwork, probably based on the style of a few 1950’s English landscape watercolorists and poster designers

  11. andrea yang says:

    Despite his accent issues Dick Van Dyke is a national treasure see him with the Disney dancers at 90 in 2015

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