Quaint, quiet Cherry Tree Lane isn’t what it once was. The familiar spark of magic has left the air, and the Great Depression has settled over London like a thick fog.
Young Michael Banks and his sister, Jane, aren’t so young anymore. A former painter, Mr. Banks has recently traded in his brushes for a more “adult” job: working part time at the local bank. Michael’s wife, Mrs. Banks, has passed away, leaving behind a loving husband, three beautiful children (John, Anabel and Georgie), Jane, and house helper Ellen.
Everyone and everything feels Mrs. Banks’ absence. You see, life was simply lighter when Mrs. Banks was alive. Things were simpler. But times have changed—not for the better. And a loan that Michael Banks took out to pay for his family’s expenses is long overdue, putting even more pressure on the grieving family.
And so the loan sharks arrive at Cherry Tree Lane to collect the entire sum, or to repossess the Banks’ family home. They’re unyielding in their demands, unwilling to give the new widower a break. Mr. Banks has four days, until Friday at midnight, to come up with the money.
It’s an impossible task.
Unless, of course, the Banks family can remember where that little paper is. You know, the one with all the information about their shares at the bank. But it’s not in the study, or in the attic or in the—
Wait—what’s that? In the air? Right there! Don’t you see it?
Why, it’s Mary Poppins of course! She’s come to help the Banks family once again. And maybe, just maybe, she can remind them, in her practically perfect way, that nothing is ever completely lost.
Disney’s latest nod to a beloved movie from the storied studio’s past brims with positive themes that can be seen in the lives of the characters and the songs they sing. Those themes include hope, perseverance, love, encouragement, innocence, imagination and believing in the impossible.
Mary Poppins and a character named Jack (a lamplighter friend of Mary’s) teach the children (who, in turn, teach the adults around them) to hold onto their hopes and dreams, even in dimmest of situations. The children also learn that even though their mother is gone, they can cherish her memory in their hearts. They begin to understand the importance of reclaiming the childhood innocence that has been taken from them in the wake of their mothers’ death. And the children’s faith is renewed as they dream of a brighter tomorrow. In the process, they learn that just because something doesn’t make sense, it doesn’t mean it can’t be true.
Additionally, characters learn a number of other redemptive lessons. They learn how to look for the positive side of every difficult situation (instead of embracing the gloom), to “trip a little light fantastic,” to dance in joy when things are foggy, to value what’s inside of oneself and to focus on the future more than the past. They’re also encouraged not to judge a book by its cover.
Mr. Banks is, understandably, overwhelmed by his wife’s tragic passing. He previously vowed to her that he would press on and raise their three children well, but sometimes the stress of being a single father causes him to lash out in frustration (although he almost always apologizes afterward). Mr. Banks is generally good-natured. He loves his children and tells them so, and he encourages them when he can. Finally, he teaches them to be frugal, kind and courteous. The children, for their part, work diligently to help their father and encourage him in his moments of weakness.
Family, friends and neighbors rally around the Banks family in their most desperate moments, lending a helping hand and reassuring family members that they will never be alone. Some friends even climb to the top of Big Ben (in a scene that’s actually a bit perilous) and “turn back time.”
Jane diligently fights for the needs of the less fortunate as a charity worker.
Mary Poppins is obviously filled with a sort of magic, having the ability to clean with the wrinkle of a nose or pop into a painting with only a word. These magical abilities are never explained.
Mary Poppins tells the Banks children to look up to the stars when they miss their mom, saying that she is always watching over them. That said, Mr. Banks sings a song to and about his departed wife. One lyric wonders, “Where did you go?” perhaps implying that he’s uncertain about where she’s gone after her death.
A man says he won’t do something, not even to “save my soul.” A song says of those who act kindly, “You’ll be blessed,” and it also emphasizes the biblical truth, “You reap what you sow.”
A couple holds hands and flirts, and a man is called handsome. A song mentions a woman in “her birthday suit.”
In the animated sequence, a threatening wolf attempts to harm the Banks children. (They’re nearly flung from a carriage and, eventually, they do fall off.) Elsewhere, Georgie is pulled into the sky while flying a kite during a violent wind. Two grown men push one another. A pirate-ship flag features a skull-and-crossbones graphic. As mentioned above, some folks climb Big Ben in a scene that might have you holding your breath. We learn that Mr. Banks’ wife has died of an unnamed sickness.
Very mild British exclamations include “blimey,” “blast the devil” and “blasted.” Additionally, the phrases “good heavens” “for the love of all that is holy” and “oh my goodness” are heard once or twice. A few insulting names include “fool,” “buffoon,” “tough nut” and “blundering blowfish.”
Mary Poppins briefly sings of an uncle who was “on the sauce.”
Mr. Banks is met by a rude lawyer who is in the business of repossessing homes. The same lawyer and his boss, William Wilkins (head of the local bank), lie repeatedly to Mr. Banks and attempt to destroy any record of his inherited shares. In the animated world, the bank executive is represented by a menacing wolf who attempts to abduct Georgie Banks.
Mr. Banks, who’s struggling with grief and stress, sometimes yells at his children in frustration and anger (especially when the children fight amongst themselves). Similarly, Nanny Ellen also gets frustrated with the children and the general state of the house.
The Banks children are caught lying about a broken valuable. Jack steals an apple from a cart vender (though he promptly gives it away to a jobless man who’s standing in line for either soup or employment). A man insults his uncle, saying that he’s losing his mental capacities. Someone refers to his rear as his “bottomsy.”
As grown-ups we forget. We forget to live. To laugh. To have fun. We’re often so caught up in the daily hustle and bustle that life’s dreams and joys fall to the wayside. That’s one reason we need children—because they teach us, with their little bodies and huge hearts, what it means to live life to the fullest.
And that’s also why we need Mary Poppins. Because Mary’s new story teaches us, as she did nearly 60 years ago, that life is what you fill it with. Tragedy will hit, and life will take some unexpected turns, but nothing is ever completely lost. There is always more, if only we will but open our eyes to recognize the blessings all around us.
So perhaps today is the day that we put away our “adult” distractions, whatever they may be, and take some time to sit with the little ones who are closest to our hearts. Maybe today we relearn that life is more than stuff. Maybe today we recall that life is about the people who love us well.
Those are the kinds of lessons this delightful sequel reinforces. Mary Poppins Returns reminds us that though circumstances may bring us down, together “there is nowhere to go but up.”
Need a little help in putting “away our ‘adult’ distractions?” Then pop into these offerings for a little inspiration:
Kristin Smith joined the Plugged In team in 2017. Formerly a Spanish and English teacher, Kristin loves reading literature and eating authentic Mexican tacos. She and her husband, Eddy, love raising their children Judah and Selah. Kristin also has a deep affection for coffee, music, her dog (Cali) and cat (Aslan).