Movies to Watch With Mary Poppins Returns

It has taken Mary Poppins a really long time to return. Like, “avoiding the statute of limitations” long. She flew off into the clouds over a half century ago, and now she’s returned with a new look, some new music, and several impossible leaps forward in animation technology.

Mary Poppins Returns also enters our lives after the semi-true Saving Mr. Banks gave us some insight into why author P.L. Travers resisted selling the rights to Walt Disney for so long, as well as her disappointment at the finished product. Julie Andrews was too young, too bubbly, and too likable for her taste. Of course she was perfect (not just practically) for everyone else. Andrews owned the role, making it almost unthinkable that someone else could take up the mantel.

Emily Blunt has that honor/horror. She has to simultaneously make us remember Andrews and be comfortable without her. To evoke the spirit of the character as so many remember her without stepping on her toes or clinging too closely. There’s only room for one under that umbrella. The rest is effervescent nostalgia. For bad cockney accents. For sidewalk dance routines. For chalk.

Here are some movies with interesting connections to Mary Poppins Returns to keep that supercalifragilisticexpialidocious vibe going.

The Sound of Music (1965)

It’s really interesting that Andrews followed Mary Poppins by playing a buoyant caretaker leading a group of children through a real-world-defying set of songs while thawing an icy father and dancing with cartoon penguins escaping Nazis.

Director Robert Wise and writer Ernest Lehman saw advance footage of Mary Poppins on the Disney lot and decided they had to hire Andrews before anyone else got to see her as the magical nanny. Smart move. After all, they were hiring her for essentially the same role. Less prim, less snarky, but just as wondrous even without the bottomless handbag.

Into the Woods (2014)

For better or worse, Into the Woods gives us an example of Rob Marshall toying with magical realism in a musical with Emily Blunt in a major role. He even pulled in Meryl Streep for an eccentric role in Mary Poppins Returns.

Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s sprawling fairy tale couldn’t have been easy to adapt. It’s got a large ensemble where each role is integral to the larger story, which is constructed from multiple familiar fairy tale plots cobbled together into some big life lessons. Blunt played The Baker’s Wife, who desperately searches for four magical ingredients to give to Streep’s witch for her to lift a curse and allow The Baker and his Wife to have children.

It’s an amazing play (there’s a DVD version with Joanna Gleeson as The Baker’s Wife and Bernadette Peters as the Witch), and a fun yet clunky movie. But it’s also a totally different animal than Mary Poppins Returns despite the overlapping talent.

Return to Never Land (2002)

While several Disney movies work for kids and adults alike, this Peter Pan story about Wendy’s children learning to believe is strictly for young audiences.

But I wanted to highlight it for two important reasons. One, hitting theaters in 2002, it came out 49 years after the original, which places it in the same league as Mary Poppins Returns on the list of longest gaps between film sequels.

Two, it helped usher in Disney’s era of making decades-later sequels for its earliest blockbusters following a decade of mixed results in the 1990s. They made Lady and the Tramp II: Scamp’s Adventure 46 years after the first; 101 Dalmations II: Patch’s London Adventure 46 years after the first; Cinderella II: Dreams Come True 52 years after the first; and Bambi II 63 years after the first.

Now, Mary Poppins has returned 54 years later.

Nanny McPhee Returns (2010)

While she was gone, the marketplace for strange nannies with magical powers was filled by Emma Thompson as Nanny McPhee. With her snaggle tooth and near-nihilistic demeanor, she cut a far different figure than Poppins, but her methods and lessons were largely the same, and every review name-checked Poppins as a counterpoint.

With the success of the 2005 film, StudioCanal didn’t waste much time in crafting a sequel, which takes place 80 years after the first on a WWII-era farm. Maggie Gyllenhaal plays the mother of three unruly children who get even testier when their wealthy cousins come to live with them, so Nanny McPhee swoops in, teaches pigs to fly and gets the children back on track while dealing with the emotional toll of the war.

The Odd Life of Timothy Green (2012)

It’s a shame that we can’t see Lin-Manuel Miranda’s filmmaking debut, Clayton’s Friends, which he made at sixteen. But we can see his first collaboration with Disney when he played a botanist in The Odd Life of Timothy Green.

It’s a weird little movie that draws some interested parallels to Mary Poppins — specifically that a magical character enters two parents’ lives in order to make them better. Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton play a married couple who struggle to conceive a child, so they bury all the traits they’d hope their child would have in the garden, a furious storm hits, and Timothy arrives with leaves growing out of his ankles. As Miranda’s character discovers, the leaves don’t come off. They only fall off when Timothy does something to affect the life of someone around him and, like all Poppins-esque magical helpers, he disappears after his job is done.

The City of Lost Children (1995)

Not so much for the kiddos, Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s fantastically inventive film essentially involves a circus performer fighting with and against a gang of orphans and a malevolent invention who kidnaps children to feast on their dreams.

It’s absolutely gorgeous and plunges from a dangerous world into a vibrant fantasy land. You can see the early storytelling style and disconnected concepts that would lead eventually to Amelie, but City of Lost Children is a markedly different movie. In fact, it’s different than just about every other movie out there.

Mary Poppins Returns Full Soundtrack Streaming

The Mix

Of course, you can also watch Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and that GIF of Yondu shouting, “I’m Mary Poppins, y’all!” on repeat. What was most striking about putting this list together was the noticeable lack of magical nanny movies as a genuine sub-genre. There are some out there, and there are movies about sad children needing guidance through tough times and series of unfortunate events, but Mary Poppins so definitively made her mark that she shut down the possibility for a subgenre to emerge.

There are copycats and similar themes, but Mary Poppins is what they’ll all be compared to.

What are you watching with Mary Poppins Returns?

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