Mary Poppins Returns
*** ½ out of five stars
P.L. Travers’ practically perfect nanny pays another cinematic visit in this sequel to Disney’s seminal 1964 film.
Twenty-five years have passed since Mary Poppins (now played by Emily Blunt) last visited the Banks family. 1930s London is in the middle of the Great Depression (or the “Great Slump,” as superimposed text early in the film calls it). The Banks children, Michael (Ben Whishaw) and Jane (Emily Mortimer) are now grown up. Michael now has three children of his own, Annabel (Pixie Davies), John (Nathanael Saleh) and Georgie (Joel Dawson). Sadly, his wife Kate recently died, and so Jane and housekeeper Ellen (Julie Walters) help take care of the new generation of Banks children.
Michael also needs to finish repaying a loan he recently took out from Fidelity Fiduciary Bank or else his house will be repossessed. In the middle of all this chaos, Mary Poppins arrives out of the blue. Michael and Jane are shocked by her reemergence (and the fact that she seems to have hardly aged in the intervening years) but allow her to look after Michael’s children. Mary takes the children on several misadventures, sometimes accompanied by Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda), a lamplighter and former apprentice of the gang’s old friend, Bert. Will the Banks family manage to find enough money to save their home, and what life lessons will Mary Poppins teach them along the way?
The 1964 film Mary Poppins produced by Walt Disney is one of the most beloved movies of all time. Given Hollywood’s obsession with remakes, sequels and so forth, it is a bit surprising that it took the Disney studio over half a century to give Miss Poppins a cinematic follow-up. It’s a tall order to live up to the magical first film, but fortunately this belated sequel possesses its own charms.
Emily Blunt does a surprisingly good job inheriting the role of Mary Poppins from Julie Andrews. Blunt, much like Andrew, portrays Poppins as a whimsical yet straight-laced mentor figure. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Jack is a nice successor to the Bert character portrayed by Dick Van Dyke in the first film, as both are likable blue-collar working men who have history with Poppins. The rest of the cast turns in fine performances, with Michael’s three kids being portrayed by some of the better child actors in recent memory.
The music and new songs by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman are dazzling and catchy. The film’s overall look and feel captures a very similar tone to the first film, albeit with less set bound surroundings in most outdoor scenes. Arguably the most memorable part of the film involves Mary, Jack and the kids venturing into the landscape painted onto their beloved Royal Doulton bowl. Much like the journey into a chalk drawing in the first film, we witness a marvelous combination of live-action and hand-drawn animation. It’s always a delight to see the classic style of 2D animation on the big screen, and this is no exception. One hopes that more traditional animation will be seen in movies of the near future.
While Mary Poppins Returns is unlikely to go down in history as a classic like its predecessor has, it is still a fun ride. If you loved Disney’s first Poppins film (and let’s face it, who doesn’t?) then this is worth checking out. Spending your next holiday with Mary will make things jolly indeed.