Review: Mary Poppins Returns

This 2018 American musical fantasy film directed by Rob Marshall is based on the books by P. L. Travers and sequel to 1964’s ‘Mary Poppins’. It stars Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ben Whishaw, Emily Mortimer, Julie Walters, Colin Firth, Meryl Streep, Angela Lansbury and Dick Van Dyke.

London, 1935; The Great Depression. Brother and sister Michael (Whishaw) and Jane (Mortimer) Banks live in Cherry Tree Lane, with Michael’s three children, left as a widow following his wife’s passing one year ago. The Banks house faces repossession due to an unpaid loan, and Michael and Jane have five days to present their payment to the Fidelity Fiduciary Bank president, William Wilkins Jr (Firth) or lose everything. Things seem hopeless, regardless of how positive the Banks family try to be. But when hope is lost, Mary Poppins (Blunt) returns from the skies to the Banks household out of nowhere and injects much needed love, laughter and warmth into their lives. With young lamplighter jack (Miranda) on-board to help, Mary and the Banks family will go on a fantastical adventure within their own imagination to help them find the key to saving their home…

Over 50 years later, Disney secure one of the longest gaps between a film and its sequel with the return of Mary Poppins, setting the story only 20 years later from when we last saw Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke charm us all on Cherry Tree Lane. Now we are treated to a film that is nothing but perfect for the family market at Christmas time, and to be honest anyone in need of some innocent, magical and charming uplifting nostalgia and entertainment in the company of fine music, songs and wonderful actors. It’s the Disney film that proves just how good Disney can be when they step away from the over-shadowing of superhero films, wars in space and CGI animations. This is Disney like your parents and grand-parents remembered, and now it’s back for all new generations to enjoy.

Emily Blunt right away steals the show as Mary Poppins. Not once does she try to imitate and emasculate Julie Andrews. She makes Mary her own with a prim and proper tone, posture and infectious smile and heaps of passion. Blunt shows she can stand alongside Andrews in bringing this character to life, never out to replace her. She doesn’t have to say much to command the screen; just her physical acting and facial expressions speak volumes within the context of the film, and often leaves you grinning from ear to ear but also gently tugging at your heart.

With have a British ensemble cast that is perfect for wholesome family fun – Ben Whishaw and Emily Mortimer are Michael and Jane, loveable from the start and leading a family you want nothing but the best for. Whishaw in particular excels here and has many powerful moments as a struggling father and brother in an all too familiar world. Colin Firth is our sneering bank manager – right away you know he’s a bad sort with upmost charm but an evil moustache. Julie Walters, while not front and centre, is comforting in her role as Housekeeper Ellen and our three young Banks children – Pixie Davies, Nathaneal Saleh and Joel Dawson – enjoy their time with Mary Poppins as much as we do, never coming across as typical wooden child actors but giving it all they’ve got and having lots of energy and fun.

Lin-Manuel Miranda is our new Cockney fella, Jack, who is just a Bert rip-off and then some! But he works; he is instantly charming and has a brilliant voice leading the songs and dance routines, even if his accent is god-awful (but we expect it from those imitating Cockney’s in cinema by now). Meryl Streep in her blink-and-you’ll miss it role adds to the fun as Mary’s cousin Topsy, and two very important and heart-warming appearances by Dick van Dyke himself and Angela Lansbury wrap up the film in a big, tooth-grinning bow that makes everything good again in the world of Disney.

Yet away from the cast who ground the film, it’s the production and crew who cement it.

The animation returns in glorious, long-forgotten 2D mixing with live action. Sure, it can be said it’s just repeating success of the original, but then this IS a sequel. All sequels and continuations continue successes of their former to further the stories, don’t they? It’s not pretending to be anything else – it is simply BEING Mary Poppins! Imagination runs rife in the form of song and dance numbers and witty characters who leap from page to screen. It takes us right back to the glory days before computers did all the hard work, and yet again it proves that Disney can do this animation flawlessly and it still works in 2018 and beyond.

Blending our actors in these 2D/3D animated set-pieces is done in a way that is almost too good to be true. Led mostly by Blunt and Miranda, whose energy never wanes or sags, the interaction is second to none and you believe in everything you see and everything you hear. You’re part of this fantastical world, and they don’t let you forget it.

The soundtrack – oh, the soundtrack! Again, it’s pure Disney and pure cinematic entertainment. From the gentle tones of Lin-Manuel who bookends this musical, it can only be directed with the tight choreography and understanding of Rob Marshall who makes this look effortless. While taking cues from the original songs and score, we aren’t treated to repeats of what has gone before. We are given a whole new catalogue of original songs that is nothing but a treat to hear. Songs like ‘Can You Imagine That?’ and ‘Trip A Little Light Fantastic’ carry shades of classics, but are toe-tappingly entertaining, and songs like ‘A Conversation’ and ‘The Place Where Lost Things Go’ will bring a tear to your eye and hit to the gut with such tender, beautiful performances. It’s a musical for the ages, and honours the original that made it such a benchmark in musical cinema.

With a solid two hour runtime that never drags, the film deals with themes such as struggling with changing economy, class struggles, bereavement and finding your place in society when times are hard. It was relevant in the 1930s, and more relevant even now and everything that plays on the screen can be played in real life – it’s just a shame we don’t all have our own Mary Poppins to make it far easier to cope with.

To sum up, it’s simply…. super, fun and quite majestic, Emily Blunt is gorgeous.

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