‘Everything is possible; even the impossible’

By: 
Staff Writer Kate Wehlann

It’s not editorializing to say 2018 was a tough year for a lot of us. The past few months have been rough for me personally, mental-health wise. Watching stand-up comedians with my parents when I went up for Christmas made me genuinely smile a bit, but my main reaction to things designed to make me laugh was largely summed up in “meh,” at least on the inside. It was hard to feel amost anything besides stress and anxiety and my brain defends itself with shoving it down until I’m just numb. Yay, depression, right?

And then I went to the movies just before New Year’s with a friend and, upon further thought over the next week, I’m not surprised Mary Poppins Returns had such a profound effect on my mood.

I know I don’t normally write reviews, but, after the tough time 2018 gave us and the need for a more positive outlook on 2019, I feel like this movie is more important than a cursory look might show. Also, I pretty much smiled during its entirety and, given we were in a dark theater, I know it wasn’t just for show.

Just like us, Anabel, John and Georgie Banks (Pixie Davies, Nathanael Saleh and Joel Dawson), have had a rough year. They lost their mother, Kate Banks, apparently the emotional glue of the family, to an illness unspecified. Their father, Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw), a painter-turned-bank teller by the need for financial stability during his wife’s illness and “the Great Slump,” referring to the worldwide economic downturn that lasted through the 1930s, is at his wits' end. To help cover expenses, he’s taken out a loan from the Fidelity Fiduciary Bank, where his father once worked and forced him to invest his tuppence (1/120th of a pound) in the original film.

Unfortunately, the bank doesn’t pay as well as Michael needs it to and he’s three months behind on his loan payments and the bank has sent lawyers to inform him the bank will reposess his home if he doesn’t pay the loan back in full. Michael and his sister, Jane (Emily Mortimer), search the home for a document proving shares their father had in the bank that would be enough to pay off the loan, but can’t find them anywhere. They do, however, find an old kite they used to fly together as a family. It’s worn and patched and still has holes and Michael decides to throw it out.

Michael’s youngest son, Georgie, finds the kite as he and his two older siblings, who are quite grown-up for their age following the difficulties they’ve faced, go out to buy groceries. As they’re walking through the park, Georgie gets the kite up into the air and a great whoosh of wind sweeps him up into the sky and he returns to the ground with Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt), who takes on the responsibility of the children. She and Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda), an old apprentice of the first film’s Bert (Dick Van Dyke), work to teach them “Everything is possible; even the impossible.”

"But we don't need a nanny," Anabel says.

"We have grown up a good deal in the past year," adds John.

"Well," replies Mary, "we'll have to see what can be done about that."

Like the last film made almost 55 years ago, Mary Poppins takes the children on magical adventures inside the painting on a pot (similar to their adventure in the chalk drawings with Bert, complete with animated penguins) and they are introduced to the world of lamplighters (similar to the "Chim Chim Cher-ee" number with the chimney sweeps in the 1964 film), but it’s important to remember while there are similarities, this is not a remake. It is a sequel. I spoke with a lady after seeing the film who was disappointed not to hear her old favorites from the last movie, so don’t go in with that expectation. Julie Andrews (the true Disney queen for whom Disney delayed the original film to accommodate her pregnancy) will not make an appearance, though Dick Van Dyke does make a cameo. You won’t hear any of the old songs, aside from a brief nod to one of the songs near the end, but you will be introduced to other songs that are just as catchy and scenes and ideas that are just as magical and enchanting as the first film. As only Lin-Manuel Miranda (a national treasure and precious cinnamon roll who must be protected at all costs) can, Jack’s song “Underneath the Lovely London Sky” encourages people to remember things will get better soon despite the Great Slump, and that hope is echoed at the end of the film with “Nowhere to Go But Up.” Oh, it's also a lot of pure, fantasy fun!

Many families in the area know what it’s like to feel like everything is falling apart and now they’re getting threats from the bank or bill collectors. Others know what it’s like to lose someone, some quite close to the holidays. A lot of kids around here know what it’s like to grow up too fast and take on more responsibility than their shoulders were ever designed to hold at such a young age. Young or old, we could use a Jack or Mary Poppins around sometimes.

Ultimately, this is a story of having hope when things get hard, of mourning those we’ve lost and remembering their spirits are with us when we need them, of believing in the impossible. To say this film was magical is praise I don’t typically give, but whether it’s because of my mental state at the time I saw it or the need I felt for there to be a ray of hope at the end of a very long year (does anyone else remember the Olympic Games we had in 2018? Yeah. It’s been a long year), this film, I think, deserves the adjective.

Peter Travers of Rolling Stone didn’t rate the film highly, but did say, “Mary Poppins Returns shows it has the power to leave you deliriously happy.”

While I don’t agree with his rating, I do agree with that statement — it truly offers a bit of childlike wonder and deserves its shot in hearts and film collections.

kate@salemleader.com, @KateWehlann on Twitter

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