Mary Poppins

⭐⭐⭐⭐ based on 1 review.

tl;dr: A wonderfully witty and whimsical ride that continues to be a huge amount of fun and highly imaginative despite its age.


Spoilers Ahead: My reviews are not spoiler-free. You have been warned.

Full disclosure: I technically missed the first act as Alison had started watching the film alone before I decided to join in, so consider this a review from the moment the kids first meet Bert.

Mary Poppins is one of those iconic movies that I watched quite a few times as a kid but couldn't really tell you a lot about. I remember the main cultural touchstones: supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, spoons full of sugar, the power of imagination, dancing penguin waiters, lucky chimneysweeps, flying umbrellas etc. On top of which, more recently, the sequel served as a reminder about their nautical-themed neighbour, the whole "banking is morally dubious" subplot, and just how incredibly English the whole thing is, but I was still surprised to see how much of the movie I'd forgotten about entirely.

Actually, on the note of the sequel, rewatching the original now really highlights how much the sequel is really more of a remake. I still think it was a solid movie, but I feel like the comparison between Poppins and Poppins Returns is similar to that between Star Wars and The Force Awakens: they're effectively the same plot, just modernised and with some grander set pieces.

Not to say that Mary Poppins was all that problematic. Given its age, the film must have been incredibly progressive to have held up this well. There's a couple of moments that I think would be done differently today, but no foot-in-mouth wincing. For example, taken in the context of both the time and the wider story, Mary's final few moments are an emotional but warm close to the plot; today, though, I think they might rephrase her comments just a bit so that it doesn't feel quite as damning to non-nuclear families. I could certainly see her comments equating biologocial inheritance to "true family" as being a bit of an emotional trigger for quite a few step-parents and other modern family models, though it's all unintended in the best possible way.

What I found more interesting was the films surprisingly anti-capitalist and anti-class rhetoric, though again the final few moments serve to undermine this a lot (in fact, let's return to that point). From the evil, greedy bankers, to the ignorant and ridiculous caricatures of British upper society, to the highlighting of the barbarism of fox hunting and eye-rolling dismissal of the comments about it being "tradition", there's a surprising amount of anti-establishment thinking going on. Throw into the mix the portrayal of the working class as the real backbone and moral centre of society, plus the mother's involvement in the suffragette movement, and you have an immensely liberal movie.

However, whilst we're talking about the mother, let's return to those last few moments. For all the big talk of the entire film about the fact that friendship, family, and fun are what make life worth living, it's all a little undermined when the "happy ending" sequence takes place and sees the dad re-hired by the evil corporation (and promoted no less) and the mother seemingly abandoning her political causes, with both actions linked into the family finally "healing". On top of which, you have the way the Womens Rights movement is subtly mocked throughout, though I can't make my mind up if this was a subvertive undermining of equal rights or a specific parody of middle-class, "WI" feminism. If it's the latter (which it feels more like until those final moments) then it's just another surprisingly subversive piece of plot.

Sideplots aside, though, the main story of whimsy and imagination is still as spell binding as ever, and surprisingly inventive. There are still plenty of moments which surprised and delighted at how they manipulate their world (I can't imagine how much of the film was shot on wires) and even where some set pieces now feel a little lacklustre in terms of action, they more than make it up in charm. Plus, the film is incredibly, truly English. Despite being made my Disney and a sack load of American producers, the slang and general vibe couldn't be more authentic, with nary a stereotype in sight (except when deliberately done for the sake of plot).

Which is all to say that Mary Poppins holds up incredibly well and will hopefully remain a classic shown to kids for many decades to come. What a lovely, warming movie 🤗

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