Mary Poppins Returns
Director: Rob Marshall
Starring: Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ben Wishaw, Emily Mortimer, Julie Walters, Meryl Streep, and Colin Firth
The moment a group of lamplighters, led by the talented Lin-Manuel Miranda, start dancing with whirlwind choreographed precision and singing a memorable, foot-tapping number called “Trip a Little Light Fantastic”, it’s easy to remember that Disney has been crafting these sorts of unforgettable sequences consistently throughout its storied career. “Mary Poppins”, made in 1964 and Disney’s first film to receive an Academy Award for Best Picture, is one of the most iconic live-action films in the Disney catalog. Julie Andrews, in her feature film debut, and Dick Van Dyke are exceptional in the roles, even still today.
“Mary Poppins Returns”, a direct sequel, is guided by Rob Marshall, a director who has some experience bringing musicals to life on film with the 2002 Academy Award Best Picture winner “Chicago” and the 2014 crowd pleaser “Into the Woods”. Taking the role of the affable Mary Poppins is Emily Blunt, who does a surprisingly good job of filling the gigantic shoes left by Julie Andrews by making the role her own, and offering support is the multi-talented artist Lin-Manuel Miranda, who is completely amusing every time he is on screen. “Mary Poppins Returns” doesn’t try anything completely new here, which is unfortunately felt in some spaces, but instead focuses on honoring the past in numerous ways.
Michael (Ben Wishaw) and Jane Banks (Emily Mortimer), the youngsters from the first time Mary Poppins came to visit, are all grown-up and leading very responsible lives. Michael works at a bank and has three little children (Pixie Davies, Nathanael Saleh, and Joel Dawson), Jane is a union organizer during this Great Depression time who has made a significant point in helping her brother who is grieving after the death of his wife. Things aren’t going great for the Bank’s family, money is running low and their house is being sought after by a greedy bank owner (Colin Firth). But just as things are about to get worse, an unexpected visitor from the past arrives to help the family.
“Mary Poppins Returns” is doing its best job of paying homage to the original classic. The structure of the story is very familiar and mostly unsurprising; the original film casts a long shadow and this sequel tries its best to stay within its shade. This makes for a story that never quite finds its own unique path or creates much of its own emotional connection with its new audience. Still, there are some really interesting moments that distract from these concerns, specifically when Mary Poppins guides the youngsters into fun environments or into situations with amusing characters like Cousin Topsy played with scene-stealing glee by Meryl Streep.
The classic cut-in animation is still represented and, in a very pleasant surprise, is utilized in a unique and effective way. Rob Marshall has a talent for engaging movement within in the frames of his films, here blending different aspects of animation makes for some really engaging images that are interesting to watch. In one of the best scenes of the film, the characters walk into an animated world similar to one directly from Disney’s early cartoon genesis.
The musical numbers are filled with pure Disney cheer and joy. While some of the songs may not have the staying power like the ones from the original, the themes “Nowhere to Go But Up” and “Trip a Little Light Fantastic” are still being hummed weeks after seeing the movie.
“Mary Poppins Returns” doesn’t tell a new story as much as it honors everything from the past. Nostalgia is a powerful tool and for many fans, this spoonful of sugary nostalgia will be a memorable ride.
3.75 out of 5.00