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Mary Poppins Returns with much more than a spoonful of pure, badly-needed optimism.

Saving Mr. Banks’ Children

Practically perfect in every way
Practically perfect in every way

Every once in a while, it’s all because it’s the right movie at the right time. Back in 2006, Rocky Balboa hit the screens with a fresh injection of inspiration after this writer waded through a particularly rough year. Now, in 2018, it’s Mary Poppins offering her hand to lift up those in need of renewed optimism.

Pure optimism.

What a concept. Simple. Maybe even na├»ve. But it’s also healthy. And necessary.

It’s one of the base elements of classic movie magic.

While movies like Vice search for people to blame and vilify, this one celebrates and elevates the people who overcome.

Back in 1964, the original Mary Poppins featured Mr. Banks, a hard-nosed businessman with two children, Jane and Michael. Now, 54 years later, this one catches up with those two kids — fully grown and grappling with life’s harsh realities.

Michael (Ben Whishaw, Skyfall), now the father of three children, is struggling to keep it all together. His wife and the mother of his children passed away recently. He’s not pursuing his dreams of being an artist; instead, he’s paying the bills by working at the bank. And the finances are spread thin; the mortgage is past due and now the bank is threatening repossession if the entire balance isn’t paid in full.

Those days of gallivanting around London with Mary Poppins in pursuit of fantastical adventures are long forgotten. Did they even happen? Surely it was all just a child’s dream. Those things don’t happen in real life.

Can You Imagine That?

The movie sets the upbeat tone right from the beginning. It’s all about rolling with the punches. It’s not about getting angry at the world and seeking vengeance. It’s about simply acknowledging bad things happen, and it’s okay. Bad things can be overcome.

Listen to the lyrics from Marc Shaiman’s incredible collection of new songs. Might as well start at the beginning, with today’s wonderkid, Lin-Manuel Miranda (the mastermind behind Broadway’s Hamilton), singing about the promise of a tomorrow that never comes. And the need to keep on looking high, nonetheless.

And then there’s Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt, Edge of Tomorrow), returning to the same family home at 17 Cherry Tree Lane to once again bring the family Banks back from the brink. Blunt’s take on Poppins is practically perfect in every way. She’s all-knowing, as if she can see the future. Her quips are subtle and funny. And her confidence is contagious.

Behind the scenes, it’s a strong creative team that finally brings genuine magic back to the movies. Director Rob Marshall’s no stranger to movie musicals, having brought to the big screen the stage shows Chicago and Into the Woods (with co-stars Blunt and Meryl Streep returning for Poppins). Here, he’s working with Shaiman’s score to bring to life a wholly new Poppins experience that upgrades the technical wizardry while keeping the tone at a fitfully innocent level.

As a whole, it’s a respectful team, one that seeks to honor and build upon the reputation of the original. To that end, as the opening credits roll, the backdrop features paintings inspired by the work of Peter Ellenshaw, one of Mary Poppins’ effects wizards. And, eschewing the style of modern computer animation, fanciful scenes such as those placed within a Royal Doulton bowl come to life are produced with a classic-Disney style that calls back to the animated sequences of the original.

Off We Go

With a recurring theme that “everything is possible, even the impossible,” it takes a hefty dose of magic to make it work. Mary Poppins Returns brings the magic — and the music.

Watch the movie, but then go back and listen to the score. Each song offers a golden nugget. And a couple are ovation-worthy showstoppers. Perhaps this one will become part of Disney’s newfound circle of life. It’s the one that involves reincarnating properties between live action, animation and the stage. A mega-budget stage show down the road? Why not?

As Mary takes Michael’s children on an adventure of the imagination, she helps them overcome the loss of their mother and imbues them with the confidence to face the world. The kids meet many colorful personalities, including Streep as a confused artisan whose world literally turns upside down on a regular basis. The message from her big musical number? When the world turns upside down, turn with it.

There’s also a wonderful cameo by Dick Van Dyke, a co-star in the original, that truly sums up what it’s all about: always maintain a childlike sense of wonder never stop having fun. Van Dyke, at 93 years old, is the perfect spokesman for that message and he doesn’t miss a beat in his performance.

The adventure concludes with another happy cameo, this one by Angela Lansbury, who reminds the Poppins clan there’s nowhere to go but up. It’s a suitably upbeat note. Maybe, just maybe, all is well with the world all. Or, at least, it can be. If you want it.