Five decades after its widely beloved predecessor, Mary Poppins has returned to the big screen once again to spread love, joy and magic. Although marketed as a sequel, there are some elements which tread reboot territory, and the film itself never really confirms which one it is. But that’s just as well, because Mary Poppins ‘never explains anything’ anyway.
While fans of the 1964 classic can swing either way with this one, this review is rather inclined to the opinion that while nothing can measure up to the ‘practically perfect’ standards of the original, this is certainly a praiseworthy effort. To elaborate, it is somewhat like the metaphor of the apple not falling far from the tree. In this case, however, it is more like the pear not falling far from the apple tree—originating from the same source, inherently different, but each distinctly reminiscent of the other.
The setting—while having zoomed forward into the 1920s—still has a lot of (some might even say too many) familiar elements. Michael and Jane Banks have grown up, and lead lives of their own, with Michael having to be told even now to ‘close your mouth, we are still not a codfish’. As Saving Mr. Banks tried to establish, Mary Poppins Returns, too, is more about Mr Banks (in this case, Michael) than his three children. Faced with the demise of his wife, the threat of imminent eviction, and a severe lack of funds, Michael has lost his sense of magic and wonder, and who better to restore it than Mary Poppins? The themes of general economic uncertainty and profit-obsessed banks may strike a chord with the ‘grown ups’, but it is the 2D animation sequences and the absurdly imaginative musical numbers that are truly delightful. The art direction (supervised by Niall Moroney) and costumes (by the Academy Award winning Sandy Powell) are excellent as well, and set the tone for the entire film. Concerning the music, none of the songs may reach the legendary status of ‘Spoonful of Sugar’ or ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’ any time soon, but the score by Marc Shaiman is decidedly fitting (especially a rather un-Poppinesque music hall number).
Furthermore, it must be said that the casting in the film is spot on. Reunited with her Into The Woods director Rob Marshall, Emily Blunt is splendid as Mary Poppins, sprinkling the character with her own sassy spin and cheekily stolid repartee. The hard work put into the role is evident, as Blunt gives us a different but equally lovable version of the mystical nanny. Lin-Manuel Miranda, playing Jack the lamp-lighter (an obvious nod to Dick van Dyke’s iconic Bert) is a perfect complement, lighting up the screen with his lovable enthusiasm, snazzy dance moves and superior musical talent. The Cockney accent adopted from van Dyke’s original character is admittedly rather patchy in places, but he more than makes up for it, once again proving the universal fact that it is near impossible to hate the icon that is Lin-Manuel Miranda.
The Banks family members play their roles satisfactorily as well, and Ben Wishaw (Michael Banks) has some especially tender moments. Colin Firth seemed pretty happy playing the rather cartoonish villain, complete with a pocket watch and sinister moustache. I am sorely tempted to comment on the short character cameos as well, but for fear of spoilers I will content myself with a reminder to not be surprised if you cheer on reflex.
The call backs and references to the original film are aplenty and more as the film packs on the nostalgia past the ceiling. Unashamedly and cheerfully illogical, one is not even given time to realise that the nanny dunks the children in water, takes them to a music hall, lets them play with fire, and leads them in dancing with a mob of strange men. But as Mary Poppins says, “We are on the brink of an adventure, children. Don’t spoil it with questions.” Those new to the magic of Mary Poppins may criticise the simple plot and overtly moral message, but original fans may find themselves wiping away more than one unexpected tear.
At the end of it all, what can one say except—‘We won’t forget, Mary Poppins. We promise.’
Movie: Mary Poppins Returns
Director: Rob Marshall
Cast: Emily Blunt, Ben Wishaw, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Emily Mortimer, Colin Firth, Nathanael Saleh, Pixie Meadows