Mary Poppins Returns is the 52 year follow-up to the classic 1964 musical about a magical nanny who comes to help discipline the Banks’ children, Michael and Jane. Mary Poppins, in the original version, was played by Julie Andrews in her breakout film role that won her an Oscar. Decades later, Poppins is now played by Emily Blunt (A Quiet Place, 2018). The film is a magical delight for both kids and parents to enjoy. It’s full of great musical numbers, has a nice message, and wonderful feel to it.
In terms of story and structure, Mary Poppins Returns could go down the path of retread. We have the same sort of story as the first, Mary Poppins returns to the Banks home, where everyone else has aged, except for Mary Poppins. This time, she’s there to look after Michael’s noisy children, Anabel, John, and Georgie. This movie, thankfully, doesn’t go out of its way to recreate scenes from the original. Instead, it makes subtle quote references. A large majority of the film is about the Banks family trying to stop their home from foreclosure by the new head of the bank, Mr. Wilkins, played by Colin Firth (The King’s Speech, 2010).
Emily Blunt is fantastic in the title role and is worthy of all of the praise that she’s gotten. Her version of Mary Poppins seems to be less “joyous”, and more of a gruff nanny. As a result, she is nothing short of charming, especially with her witticisms. Her take on the character seems more in line with the novels. She’s backed up with terrific support by the former chimney sweeper, Burt’s protege, Jack, played by Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton), right down to that infamous, bad cockney accent. Other cast members include Ben Whishaw (Paddington 2), who plays the now adult Michael, is particularly effective in this role as the grieving widow, and Emily Mortimer plays his sister, Jane. Also, you can check-out Julie Walters, as the Banks’ housekeeper, Ellen, who hasn’t aged a bit, Meryl Streep, as Mary Poppins’ cousin in one fun scene, and cameo appearances from Angela Lansbury and Dick Van Dyke.
Mary Poppins magic powers really shine due to special effects and the production design. Much like the original film, there are a lot of animated scenes with actors being placed in the background. One sequence, in particular, follows a song about treasure and the sea, and has the characters entering a pot where they interact with the talking animals inside. The animation is old school Disney hand-drawn animation, and was achieved by a collaboration of surviving animators from the 1960s. This alone, is a remarkable achievement, to say the least.
Let's not forget that the original and this version are musicals. Directed by Rob Marshall (Chicago), the songs are, for the most part, very fun, and have the Broadway music hall vibe in the same vein as the original Mary Poppins’ songwriting duo, The Sherman Brothers. This time, the music was created by composer Marc Shaiman and co-lyricist Scott Wittman (Hairspray). Much like the original, the soundtrack is packed with tunes. The opening song, Under The Lovely London Sky, is a wistful one that romanticizes England and sets the stage for what the audiences should expect. My personal favorite is A Cover is Not The Book which has a music hall style tune and is about realizing people and things are not what they appear to be. It’s played during a brilliantly fun moment, in a film full of of memorable musical sequences, where Emily Blunt’s voice (whose singing is actually pretty good) changes to a sassier sounding cockney accent. It’s great!
Mary Poppins Returns is a delightful time. As far as Holiday releases go, in a jam packed season, this is definitely one worth checking out. It’s a whimsical and magical looking film, and a good time from start to finish featuring a terrific lead performance from Emily Blunt with an outstanding supporting cast to back her up. For families, I quite recommend it, I don’t think you’ll find a better movie during the season.
Playing in Lebanon at Entertainment Cinemas, Monday through Sunday: 11:55 AM, 3:30 PM, and 7:00 PM.