By Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and Film Writer
It’s been 54 years since Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke graced movie screens with their legendary song and dance numbers, loosely based on the writings of P.L. Travers about the magical nanny who’s “practically perfect in every way.”
Thanks to a strong directorial lead by Rob Marshall and immensely talented help by top marquee names like Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda, Mary Poppins Returns shines and revels in numerous musical numbers that are just as catchy as they are colorful.
A now adult Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw), turned widower a year prior, tries to keep his head above water, raising his three children Anabel, John and Georgie (Pixie Davies, Nathaniel Saleh and Joel Dawson), while losing track of his financial obligations trying to make ends meet.
Despite assistance from loyal sister Jane (Emily Mortimer) and absent-minded housekeeper Ellen (Julie Walters), Michael is at risk of losing the Banks home if he can’t pay back a bank loan in full by midnight at the end of the week.
Enter Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt), who flies by in the nick of time to look after the children while reminding Michael that everything is possible, even the impossible. Recruiting help from lamplighter Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda), the Bankses pull out all the stops in order to locate a misplaced confirmation of bank shares that could help save the day.
What to Love
In order to keep the same feel and look of the original, Marshall sought out retired animators in order to ensure that animated sequences didn’t feel too out of place, what with the advent of 3-D and CGI animation. By including fantasy scenes in which the live action children interact with colorfully animated friends and foes, some of the avant-garde magic of the 1964 original is retained, adding to the same feel and magic that generations grew up with.
Rob Marshall’s experience directing a slew of recent successful musicals (Chicago, Nine, Into the Woods) shines through in this latest project, making him more than a worthy successor to original director Robert Stevenson. Equally up to the task is Blunt in the title role, keeping the character’s stern demeanor while making Poppins’ non-nonsense approach to what is possible and isn’t, her own. Blunt’s singing and dancing is on point and doesn’t compete but rather adds to Dame Julie Andrews’ original performance.
Lin-Manuel Miranda dodges the tricky Cockney bullet by infusing his character Jack with the same open-mindedness as his predecessor Bert (played by Dick Van Dyke, who makes a cameo in this film), without becoming incomprehensible through a thick adopted accent.
Oh, and trivia nuts will rejoice at the surprise cameo by original Jane Banks actress Karen Dotrice, in a brief role as a wealthy lady looking for directions near the original Banks household. Julie Andrews was reported to appear in the film near the end credits as a balloon lady in a park scene, but the legendary dame opted out so to allow the spotlight to shine on Blunt entirely. The cameo went to Angela Lansbury, another Disney veteran.
Anything Worth Skipping?
Honestly? Not really. There may be a sense that this follow-up has more songs-per-hour than its predecessor, but said numbers are so engaging and fun that you end up not minding their frequency all that much.
Colin Firth could have done more as the token villain, the greedy banker hoping to ruin his employee by seizing the Banks house, however he offers enough here without resorting to any stereotyped mustache twirling.
Meryl Streep has a brief role as another one of Mary Poppins’ magical cousins, playing the eccentric Tatiana Antanasia Cositori Topotrepolovsky, or Topsy. Similarly to Ed Wynn’s Uncle Albert, Streep’s ability ties into feelings having an effect on the room’s direction or gravity. A flighty and silly role, but one that feels disconnected from the plot.
As with the first film from our collective childhood, don’t go expecting an epic tale with worldly repercussions. Mary Poppins sets out to help a family in need once again, and she does just that, with whimsy, good manners and a positive attitude. What comes from this adventure is that nothing is impossible, even the impossible, a lessons we should all benefit from in these troubling times.