Mary Poppins (1964) vs Mary Poppins Returns (2018)
The original film is practically perfect in every way, but how does its long-awaited sequel stack up? Welcome to MsMojo, and today we’re pitting Disney’s 1964 version of “Mary Poppins” against its 2018 sequel, “Mary Poppins Returns.” We’re evaluating a wide-range of categories to determine which film is the most timeless and all-around magical. There’s a spoiler alert in effect here.
Round 1: Story
Disney’s musical adaptation of P.L. Travers’ books, of course, centers on the titular nanny, who takes the Banks children on a series of adventures. Mary’s goal is to bring young Jane and Michael closer to their father, who takes pride in his work above all else. We feel the weight on Mr. Banks’ shoulders during the climax as he walks through London, knowing that he’s about to lose his job. Once Mr. Banks accepts his fate, however, he finally sees what’s most important, motivating him to go fly a kite with his family. Mary thus flies away, knowing that her task is done… for the time being.
Taking place twenty-five years later, the sequel finds Mary Poppins coming back to help navigate the now grown-up Banks children through a family dilemma. The story essentially follows the same formula, which is fitting, since this film is about reconnecting with one’s inner child. Like “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” “Mary Poppins Returns” is familiar, but it doesn’t rely on nostalgia alone, distinguishing itself with new songs, set pieces, and characters. The one major difference is in the climax, which takes a more traditional action route. While it’s certainly a creative and dazzlingly race against the clock, it lacks the emotional gravitas of the original’s.
Both movies are well-structured, well-paced, and well-written, but the original not only established the formula, but also told the story a little better. Point goes to the OG “Poppins.”
WINNER: Mary Poppins (1964) 1 / Mary Poppins Returns (2018) 0
Round 2: Animation
Although P.L. Travers actually had an outspoken bias against animation, the adventure inside Bert’s street painting is arguably the original film’s most iconic sequence. While the jolly holiday maybe goes on a few minutes longer than necessary, it’s hard to imagine the finished product without the penguin dance, the carousel horse race, or . . . a little musical number called “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.” This wasn’t the first time animation and live-action had been mixed together, but it certainly set a new standard, reinforced by an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects. Decades later, the film’s fusion of animation and live-action still looks impressive, albeit not quite up to today’s standards.
Coming out 54 years after the original, “Mary Poppins Returns” naturally has more advanced technology to play with. However, the sequel doesn’t try to modernize matters with CG animation, once again merging live-action with hand-drawn animation. Although the animation is 2D, the environments feel three-dimensional, which makes sense, since the sequence takes place inside a bowl as opposed to a flat drawing. The filmmakers also brilliantly integrate the human characters into this world with costumes that look as if they were painted on. You really believe that the live-action characters have been transported to an animated realm, and aren’t just standing in front of a green screen.
As lovely as the original film’s animation segment is, it’s also clearly a product of 1964. The sequel’s use of animation strikes just the right balance of old and new, staying true to tradition while also taking advantage of contemporary innovations. “Mary Poppins Returns” takes this round.
WINNER: Mary Poppins (1964) 1 / Mary Poppins Returns (2018) 1
Round 3: Songs
The American Film Institute ranked “Mary Poppins” #6 on their list of the Greatest Movie Musicals. The film actually placed two spots higher than “My Fair Lady,” which did beat out “Mary Poppins” for the Best Picture Academy Award. The Disney classic didn’t go home empty-handed on its 1965 Oscar Night, however, as the Sherman Brothers won Best Original Song for “Chim Chim Cher-ee.” The film has numerous other songs that are equally fantastically hummable, including the charming “A Spoonful of Sugar,” the toe-tapping “Step in Time,” and Walt Disney’s personal favorite, “Feed the Birds.” Ironically, “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” is perhaps the film’s most well-known tune while also being the hardest to pronounce.
So how does a sequel compete with a musical as beloved as “Mary Poppins?” Well, enlisting composer Marc Shaiman and lyricist Scott Wittman of “Hairspray” to write original songs is a good start. And bringing Richard M. Sherman on as a music consultant also guarantees a soundtrack that’s pure Poppins. The music in “Mary Poppins Returns” sounds as if it was cut from the same cloth as its predecessor,with joyous numbers like “Can You Imagine That?,” “A Cover is Not the Book,” and “Turning Turtle.” The highlights are the marvelously choreographed “Trip a Little Light Fantastic” and the bittersweet “Place Where Lost Things Go.”
It’s a close call . . . the original film’s songs are all perennial classics and time will only tell if the sequel’s soundtrack shares a similar legacy. Plus, the songs from “Mary Poppins Returns” owe much of their inspiration to the works of the Sherman Brothers. The 1964 film hits the highest note here.
WINNER: Mary Poppins (1964) 2 / Mary Poppins Returns (2018) 1
Round 4: Themes
Although they were made for all ages, both “Mary Poppins” films touch upon surprisingly adult themes. Many parents can identify with Mr. Banks, who loves his children, but has invested so much time into his job that he’s lost sight of what matters above all else. Reflecting on his actions, Mr. Banks realizes that he’s made mistakes in the past, but it’s not too late to seize the day with his children. He also finds that a spoonful of sugar goes a long way, and that showing even a little kindness to somebody like a penniless bird woman can make the world a better place.
In “Mary Poppins Returns,” a grown-up Michael must not only cope with the recent loss of his wife, but also financial stress and the loss of his childhood innocence. Like the old kite in his attic, Michael fears that his life is beyond repair. Not too long after Mary Poppins drops back in, though, the Banks family discovers that nothing’s lost forever. Our loved ones live on in our memories, and the kid in all of us can be awakened at any time. While these themes are reminiscent of the first film’s life lessons, they’re presented in a way that feels unique and can speak to everyone.
It’s another tight race, but grief is an especially difficult subject for any film to tackle, let alone a family film. Yet, “Mary Poppins Returns” pulls it off with sincerity and wisdom. It also further evolves themes and character arcs presented in its predecessor, making for a sequel that has something more to say.
WINNER: Mary Poppins (1964) 2 / Mary Poppins Returns (2018) 2
Round 5: The Best Mary Poppins
Although Julie Andrews had established herself on the stage, “Mary Poppins” marked her first role on the silver screen. Andrew’s lack of prior screen credits might’ve turned off other producers, but Disney knew she was perfect to play the practically perfect nanny. Walt was right, as Andrews not only had the supreme singing chops to pull the role off, but also captured the comforting nature and stern good cheer we’ve come to associate with Mary Poppins. As nurturing as Mary is, Andrews brought a proper, no-nonsense demeanor to the character, always remaining in control of her surroundings. Andrews’ legendary performance would win her an Oscar for Best Actress.
Filling Julie Andrews’ shoes is no easy feat, to say the least, which is why Emily Blunt wisely chose not to imitate the original Mary Poppins in the sequel. That’s not to say Blunt doesn’t channel what made audiences fall in love with Mary. Blunt is charismatic enough to carry a rousing musical number and affectionate enough to warm anyone’s heart. Blunt’s version of Poppins has more of an edge to her, though, as she’s not afraid to let her vainer side shine through. You could argue that this is closer to how P.L. Travers envisioned Mary Poppins, as she reportedly felt Andrews was too sweet in the role.
While both actresses hit their own personal marks, nothing lights up a room like Andrews’ smile. This is the Mary Poppins we’d want to have an adventure with and seek out in our time of need.
WINNER: Mary Poppins (1964) 3 / Mary Poppins Returns (2018) 2
Just as Julie Andrews is in a league of her own, nothing can ever quite top the original “Mary Poppins,” which finishes with a victory of 3 to 2.