In the past few years we have been getting films of past nostalgia that have resurged with at most times an unnecessary sequel. Either putting a 10 or 20 year gap between the original and sequel, most of them have been disappointments and some have been passable. However no one has produced a sequel as great as “Mary Poppins Returns”, and to think Mary hasn’t been around for 54 years. It’s a film that shouldn’t exist but we all should and need to be thankful that it does. One would think that “Mary Poppins Returns”, would be all but impossible to match one of the most beloved and acclaimed musicals of all time. But it does no disservice to the 1964 classic, and “Mary Poppins Returns” is a sequel worthy of the Disney landmark and in fact improves on the original.
It’s full of heart, large in scale, lavishly staged, beautifully photographed, exquisitely directed and brimming with show-stopping musical numbers. Director, choreographer and producer Rob Marshall is an established hand at musicals, he directs his best film since his first film “Chicago”. He has mostly more misses than hits as a filmmaker other than “Chicago”. Marshall clearly cared about this precious property and treated it with the utmost respect. It’s a film that is never charmless and remains as memorable as last year’s Hugh Jackman showstopper “The Greatest Showman”.
Ben Whishaw and Emily Mortimer, portray the grown-up Banks siblings from the 1964 original. The two have forgotten Mary Poppins’ lessons in the face of their real life troubles. One of them being that it’s been a year after the death of his wife, that Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw) has remained a broken man, stumbling through everyday life. Michael is a devoted father to his children: Annabel (Pixie Davis), John (Nathanael Saleh) and little Georgie (Joel Dawson), but without the help of the loving housekeeper Ellen (Julie Walters) and Michael’s selfless sister Jane (Emily Mortimer), he’d be lost.
They give Michael support as he is facing ruin. He is on the verge of losing the family house on Cherry Tree Lane the very house in which Michael and Jane grew up. Even worse, because he is fighting to keep the family home, Michael is becoming impatient and distant with the children.
Just as things get tough, Mary Poppins re-appears and announces she’ll be taking on the role of the nanny for Michael’s children. From the moment Emily Blunt lightly floats to the ground through the thunderous winds of a ferocious storm with umbrella in hand of course. It’s automatically difficult to imagine anyone else more suited to the role. She is more at home inhabiting the strong willed, delightfully adventurous and always loving Mary Poppins. Emily Blunt is sensational. She has a real twinkle in her eye and has a warmer smile than Julie Andrews.
As for Lin Manuel-Miranda best known for the Broadway hit “Hamilton” and the songwriter for Disney’s massive hit “Moana”, he wasn’t my favorite choice to portray, Jack the lamp-lighter. Although It was an ingenious reincarnation of sorts of Dick Van Dyke’s Bert, who was the chimney sweep from the original film. Miranda has charisma to spare and musical talent to burn. Miranda recalls the song-and-dance men of MGM.
Screen legend Meryl Streep has a single sequence that’s an exhaustively over the top appearance as Mary’s eccentric cousin, Topsy. Running at 2 hours and 10 mins, this is the one sequence that could have easily been left on the cutting room floor. It’s a sequence that wasn’t necessary. David Warner revives the retired naval officer Admiral Boom, originally played by Reginald Owen from the original, who is still living across the way from the Banks house. Colin Firth is a hiss-worthy villain as William Wilkins, the current president of the Fidelity Fiduciary Bank, that Michael Banks works for.
The nine new songs by veteran movie composer Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman are clever, tuneful substitutes for the classic songs by Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman who wrote for the original film. They work well in the context of the new story, that is set in the Great Depression of the 1930s.
In the most memorable sequence of the entire film, a crack in a ceramic bowl that was handed down from Michael’s wife, that sits in the Banks home leads to Mary and Jack and the kids plunging into the world depicted in the etchings on the bowl. Costumed as if they’re animated characters but retaining their live-action forms, they interact with animated, talking animals in a prolonged sequence featuring an elaborate musical number and a genuinely harrowing action sequence. It’s a great homage to the original sequence, with them taking advantage of modern day technology while remaining lovingly true to the visual spirit of the original.
Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda, the cast, director Rob Marshall and songwriters aren’t going to make anyone forget Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke. The new crew gives it their all and succeeds in every way manageable and gives us one of the year’s best films. All involved make this overly familiar retread “Go down in the most delightful way”.
GRADE: ★★★★1/2 OUT OF ★★★★★