She is like magic (Mary Poppins Returns movie review)

Mary Poppins, also known as the best nanny in the world, stole hearts of the cinema audience in 1964. She arrived in the house of the Banks family to take care of two little rascals – Jane and her brother Michael. The kids obviously initially wanted to send the woman back to where she comes from but when it turned out that their guardian has magical powers that allow them not only to experience wonderful, extraordinary adventures, but also to see the find joy in everyday life with all its duties and worries they fell in love with her. New Disney movie, “Mary Poppins Returns” directed by Rob Marshall, opens new chapter in the history of the protagonist and her former protégés.

What’s important, this project is very different to other Disney’s renewals, because its director is not tempted by new technologies that cinema industry has to offer, but – on the contrary – brings us back not only to dusty, old house and its secrets, but also to old cinema with all of its charms and  imperfections. The treasures of a bygone era come alive not only in the narrative, but also in the formal layer and can make the audience feel both – stunned and dizzy.

The action of Marshall’s movie takes place in England during the great Depression. Michael and Jane Banks are already adults who have forgotten what their nanny has taught them. Everyday life and its problems, responsibility, and never-ending existential struggles made them forget what carefree joy tastes like and that unrestrained imagination can do miracles. Michael is a widower who hasn’t recovered from the trauma of his wife’s death and who desperately tries to be a good father. Unfortunately, his efforts not always meet reality – he has debts that can result in eviction from the family house. Jane leads a lonely life and dedicates herself to the poor and the victims of the crisis. Mary Poppins returns when the family is in a very critical state. Her actions provoke chaos that initially seems to be making the entire situation, but in reality turns out to be like the breeze of freshness (and magic!) that brings both – light and hope.

As you can see “Mary Poppins Return” is based on well-known narrative scheme – the presence of the Other can be disturbing but at the same time it’s like a remedy for whatever is the social/family structure is or seem to be broken. The creators of the movie know very well that the best, immortal fairy tales are always made of simple, familiar schemes that reveal that good and happiness are reachable and placed closer than we think they are. Marshall is a great story-teller, who knows how to put life in those old, dusty tales without losing their original charm.

Nevertheless, this movie couldn’t success without great actress in the leading role. Emily Blunt as Mary Poppins is absolutely wonderful. She seems to be a quintessence of Britishness: she is elegant and principled, but at the same time loves to make mischiefs and fool around. Michael’s kids beautifully complete the story. They are pretty resolute and full of noble intensions, buy also have this unusual ability to keep getting into troubles. The adventures of three children and their nanny lead to fascinating and moving scenes that usually are made as affirmations of the power of imagination and children’s sensitivity, which – what’s important – doesn’t have to disappear when one reaches adulthood.
What’s interesting, the director let the old story be as simple as it gets, but at the same time he experiments with its formal layer. This experiment is very specific, because the director doesn’t go mad with new possibilities but seems to be time-traveling and using technics and effects that cinema has forgotten about. He recalls musical tradition and doesn’t step back from long dancing and singing sequences that don’t influence the action and only slow down the movie tempo. He also adds animated episodes and makes his protagonist talk to cartoon creatures. Marshall turns out to be a virtuoso in mixing different styles. Combing classical animation with actors’ scenes is something so master and brilliant that makes this movie worth of watching even when you are not a fan of Poppins’ magic and family cinema.