Mary Poppins sequel ‘a gift in dark times’

Step in time: “The world is fragile right now, and people need a film like this,” says Emily Blunt.

Is escapism good for you? Mary Poppins Returns hits cinemas next week, 54 years after the original. Meryl Streep has called it a “gift” of joy and imagination “even in dark times.”

1930s London. The economy has slumped. A widower with three children is at risk of losing his house. And so along comes his magical, kite-flying, supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, practically perfect former nanny to save the day.

That nanny is, of course, Mary Poppins — now played by Emily Blunt in Disney’s Mary Poppins Returns, a sequel to the 1964 film that will be released in cinemas next Friday. The story is set 20 years after the original, when the Banks children have grown up and convinced themselves that they imagined all of their wondrous childhood adventures.

The film also stars Hamilton creator Lin Manuel Miranda and multi-Oscar winner Meryl Streep.

It has received overwhelmingly positive reviews so far. Vulture calls it “a rapturous piece of nostalgia” and describes how “nearly everything in the film is designed to evoke a song, a visual flourish, or a story detail from the original.”

The Banks family is not the only one that needs some magic. Streep describes the film as “a gift at a needful time. A gift at remembering where the seeds of joy come from. Human possibility and imagination even in dark times.”

At the film’s London premiere at the Royal Albert Hall on Wednesday, Blunt agreed. She told the BBC that her character “has a lot of relevance for people around the world when things feel rather fragile. She’s a great unifier.”

Or, as Miranda put it: “Mary Poppins doesn’t come along when everything’s okay.”

Indeed, she was originally created in 1934 by the writer P.L. Travers, whose alcoholic father died when she was seven. “I brought him along with me all through my life,” she told The New York Times when she was 95.

Mary Poppins was, in part, a way of rewriting her unhappy childhood. The Banks family is a “reformed” version of hers, wrote The New Yorker in 2005, “their charming features magnified and their failures burnished away.”

Now Mary Poppins is back, and “not a moment too soon,” says Miranda. Is the film’s escapism good for you?

A spoonful of sugar

Yes, say some. (It helps the medicine go down!) There is nothing wrong with losing yourself in a magical story — especially when the real world feels chaotic and unstable. And it is not just for children; as Mary Poppins knows, adults often need to learn how to be joyful too. Perhaps if they did, the world would not be so scary in the first place.

What sentimental rubbish, argue others — including (perhaps) P.L. Travers. The original Mary Poppins was far sharper than her sweet on-screen persona. (When the children say they smell snow and Christmas trees in one book, she sniffs: “I smell fried fish”.) Rely on escapism too much, and you will find yourself avoiding reality. That is helpful to no one.

You Decide

  1. Do we need Mary Poppins now more than ever?
  2. Is escapism good for you?

Activities

  1. In the 1964 film, Mary Poppins calls herself “practically perfect in every way”. What are the qualities children need in a perfect parental figure?
  2. Write your own Mary Poppins story, in which she arrives to help a family in 2018. What sort of problems are they facing? What would her solutions be? And how would the family react?

Some People Say...

“Childhood slips like sand through a sieve.”

Bert, Mary Poppins (1964)

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Mary Poppins Returns will be released next Friday. The original 1964 film won five Oscars (including Best Actress for Julie Andrews) and was nominated for 13 — a record for a Disney film. The film earned an impressive $31 million when it was first released, and Walt Disney used some of the profits to build Walt Disney World in Florida.
What do we not know?
How the sequel will perform, or whether it will become a classic in the way the first film did. We also do not know what P.L. Travers would think of it, though we can guess. “We’re not going to have any prancing and dancing,” she said in the first film’s early stages. When she first saw it at its premiere, she told Disney: “The first thing that has to go is the animation sequence.” He replied: “Pamela, the ship has sailed.”

Word Watch

Economy
“The Great Depression” was an economic crisis that began in America in October 1929, and spread around the globe. In the UK it was known as “The Great Slump”. In some areas, unemployment reached 70%.
Mary Poppins
A magical, shape-shifting nanny who first appeared in the book Mary Poppins in 1934. Travers wrote seven sequels over the next 50 years. The character may have been based on her Aunt Helen, who used to say “spit spot, into bed”, according to Travers’s biographer Valerie Lawson.
1964 film
It took around 20 years for Walt Disney to convince Travers to give him the rights to make Mary Poppins into a film. She famously disliked it, although it made her a millionaire.
Multi-Oscar winner
Streep has won three Academy Awards (also called Oscars) and has been nominated a record-breaking 21 times.
P.L. Travers
The author was born in 1899 in Australia and was named Helen Lyndon Goff. She emigrated to England when she was 25, and changed her name to Pamela Travers. A film about her struggles with Walt Disney, called Saving Mr Banks, was released in 2013.

Subjects

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