Mary Poppins Strikes Back

Do you want to know the truth about Mary Poppins Returns? I can’t help myself:  It’s practically perfect in every way.

The best description of the movie comes by way of offering a description of its musical score.  It’s clear that this film’s composer, Marc Shaiman, took a deep dive not only into the Sherman brother’s score for the original Mary Poppins, but also into the rest of their voluminous work.  I say this because I have had the Shermans’ score for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang etched into my brain from the time I was a small child, and I hear hints of Chitty throughout the film.  (More on my history with Chitty here)

I don’t know if any information currently exists online about Shaiman’s process for writing the score for Mary Poppins Returns, but it sounds like he traveled back in time 54 years, kidnapped Mary Poppins‘ original orchestra, and brought them into a present day studio to record his score, a work of art filled with harmonies and instrumentation that are entirely in concert (pun intended) with Poppins’ original universe, plus a little extra jazz.  He plays with the old themes lightly at important times, but never to excess as he moves on to weave them with his own buoyant, original themes.

The score isn’t an imitation, like a comedian doing an impression of a famous person, it is more like a descendant of the original, a talented child whose voice sounds very much like her mother’s, yet with her own personality.

My description of the score could just as easily describe the entire film. Everyone involved deserves high praise for taking on this material in a gloriously old school way while adding sprinkles of modern seasoning where needed.  Mary Poppins Returns is neither a rehash nor a reboot nor even a revival, it really is a return.  If that seems impossible to you, ask Dick Van Dyke about whether delightful returns are possible.

Mary Poppins Returns is neither a rehash nor a reboot nor even a revival, it really is a return.

If you think you might enjoy stellar acting and singing from all of the adults, incredibly fine performances from the Banks children, beautiful cinematography, seamless special effects that are both fanciful (real people in cartoon worlds, for instance) and realistic (it feels like they built Depression Era London just for us), then you just might like this film. Like the original, Mary Poppins Returns has a lot to do with love, possibility, and joy, but it has its share of genuine heart and pathos as well.  Fair warning: If you’ve lost your mum, or your wife, or perhaps anyone close to you in recent times, take a few tissues with you. Gandalf has assured us, “not all tears are evil,” and your sniffling will be therapeutic and brief.

Oh, and one last note:  If you are one of those people who delight in carping about sequels being simultaneously too similar to their predecessors AND too different, or if you want to pick at the message or the theology (forgetting that this is a Disney film, not a refined work of philosophy), then I say you should take up your objections with Mary Poppins.  She’s ready for you.

Mary Poppins with a shot gun