The 2013 film Saving Mr. Banks is the story of tragedy as much as it is the story of magic. Nominally the tale of the genesis of Mary Poppins, the 1964 movie, the film is also a biopic by another means: an exploration of the childhood of P. L. Travers, the author of the Mary Poppins book series that informed the iconic Disney film. Mary Poppins, Saving Mr. Banks suggests, was rooted in sadness: Travers, born Helen Lyndon Goff, lost her beloved father, a man of imagination and youthful wonder, when he was 43 (due to, the film suggests, complications from alcoholism). Employed, like Mr. Banks, at a financial institution, the film’s Goff (Colin Farrell) was torn between the soft whimsies of childhood and the hard responsibilities of becoming an adult. So, in its way, is the movie: Saving Mr. Banks is the story of magic colliding with business. Set in the early 1960s, as P. L. Travers negotiates with Walt Disney about selling him the rights to her enchanted nanny, it is a story, ultimately, about a contract that changed the course of entertainment history. Emma Thompson plays Travers, the owner of the IP, as prickly and principled to a fault and, in all that, slightly pitiable.
The new Mary Poppins film, Mary Poppins Returns—this one starring Emily Blunt as the iconic caretaker, playing the role with a bit more sternness and edge than Julie Andrews’s 1964 version—is in many ways a fitting sequel to the original. The new movie is, like the one that came before it, a meditation on childhood, full of whimsies and mysteries and suspended disbeliefs, all of them grafted onto the sooty cityscape of London. (And the film is, indeed, a sequel rather than a remake: It is set in the 1930s, roughly 20 years after the events of the original film took place. Mary Poppins’s charges, Jane and Michael Banks, are now grown; the nanny has come, this time around, to care for Michael’s three children.)