So Mary Poppins finally returns. Wow, did she take her sweet time. The last time we saw this magical British nanny on our screens was in her first film, Disney’s Mary Poppins, in 1964…over half a century ago!
Well better late than never, because it’s certainly interesting to see such a beloved character again. The question is, is it the worth the wait?
Ten minutes into Mary Poppins Returns, and the answer becomes clear. Yes, yes, a resounding yes. A talented cast, cool songs, and some very creative set pieces all contribute to make this sequel almost as excellent as the classic original.
If you haven’t seen the first movie (you poor thing), here’s a two line synopsis. Mary Poppins (Julie Andrews) is a magical nanny who appears from the sky to help the Banks family, whose lives are falling apart. She succeeds, hurrah, and leaves.
Mary Poppins Returns is set about 20 years later. The children of the Banks family are all grown up. Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw) is now a somewhat scatterbrained artist, trying to raise his three children Annabel, John and Georgie (Pixie Davies, Nathanael Saleh, and Joel Dawson respectively) alone, after the death of his wife. His sister Jane (Emily Mortimer) is a spirited and cheerful union organiser for labourers.
After a series of unfortunate events, the Banks family finds they will have to sell their house to pay their debts. Michael remembers that he has valuable shares to sell. The problem is, he can’t find the certificate proving his ownership. This causes the family to suffer, but fortunately, a woman is spotted floating down from the sky… yes, it’s Mary Poppins again! Except she’s being played by Emily Blunt now.
This movie is directed by Rob Marshall, and not based on a specific story from the original Mary Poppins books by P.L. Travers.
One notable thing about this sequel is how similar it feels to the original Mary Poppins film.
Almost every character from the first film has a counterpart in this one, every song from the original has an “evil twin” here. Instead of singing chimney sweeps, we have singing lamplighters. Instead of a scene with people flying kites, we have people flying balloons. In Mary Poppins, everyone jumped into a drawing on a pavement; here they jump into a drawing in a china vase.
This is probably the main criticism people will have with this film. At times, it feels too much like it’s trying to copy the original.
Thankfully, however, most of these “mirror scenes” feel more like homages to the original, instead of being mere copies. There’s enough distinctions to make this film feel fresh.
And how is the new Mary Poppins? Well to be Blunt, she does a great job. Her Mary Poppins seems slightly less kindly and more mischievous than Julie Andtrews’ portrayal of her. Still, she does a terrific job.
Generally, the whole cast does well: Lin-Manuel Miranda shines as Jack, a lamplighter who used to be an apprentice to Bert the Chimney Sweep from the first movie. There are also delightful appearances from Angela Lansbury, Dick Van Dyke and Meryl Streep, who seems to be having lots of fun in her scene.
The songs are generally good. None of them can possibly live up to Step In Time or Chim-Chim-Cher-ee from the original, but tunes like Can You Imagine That?, A Cover Is Not The Book and The Place Where Lost Things Go are all very finely crafted.
Basically, Mary Poppins Returns succeeds because, well, it’s so fun and colourful. Some scenes, such as the final climax, are so cool they’re almost Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.
In a world of dark reboots and deathly serious dramas, it’s nice to have a cheerful thing to watch. Some cynics might suffer at the amount of bright-eyed optimism on display here. But eh, they can Go Fly A Kite.
So is this film practically perfect in every way? Not quite. Some scenes drag a little, and it can feel a bit too much like a revamp of the original film. But it’s still a whole lot of fun. Children will probably be drawn in by the film’s bright colours and catchy tunes. Adults will probably enjoy all the throwbacks to the original Mary Poppins, or be reminded of the delights of being a child again. All in all, quite a Jolly Holiday for all!
Mary Poppins Returns
Director: Rob Marshall
Cast: Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ben Whishaw, Emily Mortimer