“Mary Poppins Returns:” An Original Tribute to the 1964 Classic
This past Sunday, Dec. 16, I, along with 3,200 other Washington Heights community members braved the icy rain and headed to the United Palace theater for a pre-release screening of “Mary Poppins Returns” starring Heights native Lin-Manuel Miranda as lamplighter Jack and Emily Blunt as the ever-loved Mary Poppins.
The event opened with members from the Amber Charter Schools honoring the retiring Louis Miranda, Lin-Manuel’s father and the school’s co-founder, who has been working with Amber Charter Schools since 2000. Miranda helped open Amber, the first Latino-led charter school in New York State, along with the Community Association of Progressive Dominicans (ACDP). Amber currently educates around 850 students in its two locations — Kingsbridge and East Harlem — and has announced the opening of a Washington Heights location by 2020.
Several hundred Amber Charter School students attended the event, creating an early and lasting atmosphere of childhood joy well-suited for the film’s early showing. During the lovable Pixar shorts, played while audience members found their seats, audible laughter and giggles rose from the children in the audience, spreading an infectious mood of happiness and excitement.
After his father’s introductions, Lin-Manuel ran energetically onto the stage to briefly welcome his community to the long-awaited Washington Heights premiere. Expressing deep love for those living uptown, Lin Manuel said, “From the moment I was cast in this movie, I have waited for this day. We can watch this uptown with our people. It makes my heart so full to see so many kids here, so many families. Mi gente. I love you.”
Lin-Manuel’swords, however short, added a layer of personal pride to the already enthusiastic atmosphere, making the excitement not merely about the film, but about Lin-Manuel’s representation of the Heights community through his acting and musical career.
Lin-Manuel sets the tone for “Mary Poppins Returns” with the opening number “The Lovely London Sky.” While the songs and story differ from the first “Mary Poppins” (1964), Marc Platt, the film's producer, said they were “respectful of [“Mary Poppins”] and [paid] homage to the original tropes of the film, and yet we confidently take those tropes and tell the story our way, with our personality.”
Many of the new songs’ messages match up to the earlier soundtrack. In “Can You Imagine That?” Poppins shows the new Banks children, John, Anabel and Georgie, the joys of taking a bath, similar to Poppins’ use of “A Spoonful of Sugar” to get the original Banks children, Michale and Jane, to clean their room.
The combination of live action and animation that delighted audiences in 1964 returns, this time with Poppins, Jack and the children jumping into the paintings on a China bowl instead of a chalk drawing, to attend a show at the Royal Doulton Music Hall. Elevating the magical ambiance from the older version with advanced 2018 technology, these scenes pay tribute to the original movie’s use of 2D animation which lies at the foundation of these reimagined scenes.
Poppins’ somber bedtime song also makes an appearance in “Mary Poppins Returns.” Setting a similar tone to that of Julie Andrews’ “Feed the Birds,” Blunt’s “The Place Where the Lost Things Go” brought some tears to the audience’s eyes as Mary Poppins sought to comfort John, Anabel and Georgie on the loss of their mother, telling them that “when [they] need her touch / And loving gaze / Gone but not forgotten / Is the perfect phrase.”
Mrs. Bank’s absence weighs heavily on the plot of “Mary Poppins Returns,” as Michael Banks, now all grown up, struggles to keep up with his bills and save the family home from foreclosure by the bank. Throughout the film, Michael, with the help of his sister Jane, Jack, Mary Poppins and the children, tries to pay back a loan by the end of the week before the bank repossess the house. This serious note, however, does not take away from Poppins’ convincing lesson that returning to and allowing some childlike fun and innocence into one’s days adds joy into lives that too quickly turn mundane and monotonous.
As an adult, however, one realizes that Poppins’ message comes with an incredibly well-balanced attitude towards fun and parenting. Both Andrews’ and Blunt’s Poppins exude silly, carefree energy while maintaining necessary amounts of responsibility and practicality. They may make cleaning and bathing into outrageous adventures, but, at the end of the day, the job gets done and a lesson is learned.
While the film contains many allusions and references to the original “Mary Poppins” and has the most to offer to an audience familiar with the first, hoping to catch a nostalgic glimpse of the 1964 film that settled into everyone’s hearts, “Mary Poppins Returns” does wonderfully as a standalone movie as well. Anyone of any age should consider sparing a few hours to become a child again. Could you imagine that?
Photo Caption: Lin-Manuel Miranda speaking before the early screening of “Mary Poppins Returns” on Dec. 16, 2018.
Photo Credit: Lilly Gelman