As Emily Blunt tells us as the “new” Mary Poppins, “Everything is possible, even the impossible.” Blunt captures the regal looks, facial expressions, voice, and mannerisms of Andrews in a remarkable fashion. But, the strength of this visual masterpiece is not the impeccable acting, whimsical music, nor the outstanding cinematography and CGI. It is the echo of the gospel, woven throughout the movie.
Rebooting a classic is never easy. Just read the critics of the new Star Wars series, and you’ll see what I mean. It is always difficult to retain the flavor of a classic while also reshaping it for a modern audience. But, after seeing Mary Poppins Returns with my family, I was surprised by how Disney was able to capture the “magic” of the original, with a new cast, new music, and new plot, some 54 years later.
Even with an incredible star-studded cast, filled with icons such as Meryl Streep, Colin Firth, Angela Lansbury, and Dick Van Dyke, as well as Oscar-worthy performances by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Ben Whishaw, it seemed nearly impossible for anyone to fill Julie Andrew’s shoes.
Yet, as Emily Blunt tells us as the “new” Mary Poppins, “Everything is possible, even the impossible.” Blunt captures the regal looks, facial expressions, voice, and mannerisms of Andrews in a remarkable fashion. But, the strength of this visual masterpiece is not the impeccable acting, whimsical music, nor the outstanding cinematography and CGI. It is the echo of the gospel, woven throughout the movie.
Call it common grace, call it the longing of all human hearts made in the image of God, call it the vestiges of our Judeo-Christian culture or God’s providence, or any combination of the above – Mary Poppins Returns has so many (unwitting?) allusions to Scripture, an entire book could be written on it. Despite Hollywood’s often antagonistic stance toward God’s Word and the gospel, certain truths just can’t be suppressed.
It goes without saying that Jesus is not a 20th century nanny with peculiar powers, a passion for Edwardian etiquette, and a penchant for tidying up toiletries. Yet Mary Poppins Returnsbegins with a scene reminiscent of a renaissance painting portraying the return of Christ, gloriously coming down to earth from beyond the clouds.
The Reality of a Return
Mary Poppins’ return is messianic (with a lower case “m”!). The Banks family is broken and battered. Through sin and death, their world, like ours, is torn and tattered. But the children know that their best hope comes from a savior who will descend to earth, fix what is broken, right wrongs, and help others to see the world as it should be seen. No, there is no resurrection of the dead or a reversal of the curse, but the return of Mary Poppins ushers in time of blessing and peace that only a savior from the heavens could bring. The opening music tells us:
Have a pot of tea, mend your broken cup
There’s a different point of view awaiting you
If you would just look up…
Listen, soon the slump will disappear, it won’t be long
Sooner than you think you’ll hear some bright new song
So, hold on tight to those you love and maybe soon from up above
you’ll be blessed so keep on looking high
while you’re underneath the lovely London sky
The first Mary Poppins movie ends with her ascension, and the second takes off when she returns to right the wrongs that have cropped up in her absence. As God is a father to the fatherless (Ps. 68:5), Mary Poppins is a mother to the motherless. Her return helps Michael Bank’s children who lost their mother the previous year.
Much of Mary Poppins Returns (MPR) could fall under the category of Christ’s first or second coming, since the same Messiah brings various blessings in His first and second appearance. But, there is something about Mary’s ascension (in the original movie) and her return in MPRthat seems to mirror the biblical account in striking ways (granted, she ascends again at the end of MPR, but that is only to pave the way for another return in a possible sequel).
The Firmness of Faith
A strong theme throughout the movie is the firmness of faith. Beyond logic, there is faith. The imagination can lead us to faith, such as how entering an enchanted sea through the gateway of a bathtub helps the children believe in Mary Poppins. Faith can lead us to the miraculous and faith leads us to some places, people, and things that are more important than what we see.
The children often can’t believe what Mary Poppins proposes. But she says with a grin, “Everything is possible, even the impossible.” Did not Jesus say something similar? “With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matt. 19:26; Mark 10:27; Luke 18:27). In context, Jesus was speaking about how it is impossible for people to save themselves, but through faith in God and His gift of salvation in Christ, “all things are possible with God,” namely salvation. But in Matt. 17:20, Jesus speaks not about salvation, but about casting out demons or accomplishing great feats through faith (the size of a mustard seed) in Him (cf. John 14:12).
More importantly, did not Jesus embody Poppins’ statement? We thought it would be impossible for someone to give sight to the blind, to walk on water, and to rise from the dead – but Jesus did the impossible. Do we believe? The children and their father struggle throughout the movie to have faith (the father doubts that what happened during his childhood with Mary Poppins even happened – it may have just been something he dreamed up). Like her own existence in the movie, Jesus’ incarnation and presence as the God-man causes us to contemplate whether anything is impossible with God (Luke 1:37) and whether we have faith.
Mary Poppins Returns teaches repeatedly that there is more to life than what can be seen and there are more possibilities than can be imagined. Even the impossible is possible, when you believe. Sure, this can be watered down into a “Believe in yourself,” or “Follow your heart and dreams” Disney platitude, but the movie stays quite far from this except in one brief statement. The focus is on having faith and knowing that miracles are possible. MPR seems to be saying that the things which are unseen are just as “firm” or real as the things which are seen.
One person in the movie complains that Mary Poppins does something akin to miracles but never explains anything. Why? Because she evokes faith. Now, again, is this a full-blown biblical theology of faith in Jesus Christ and His Word, and the aspects of saving faith such as notitia, assensus, and fiducia (knowledge, assent/agreement, and trust)? No. But, just as Narnia doesn’t give a full exposition of faith or every attribute of Christ, enough is in MPR to pique curiosity, to whet the appetite, to possibly plant a seed that Christians can water.
The Assurance of the Afterlife
For instance, in a poignant scene between Mary Poppins and the children who lament the recent loss of their mother, Mary sings a touching song, echoing a Psalm to encourage the children. It seems to give an assurance of the afterlife and does so in touching, poetic ways (I encourage you to listen to the song).