Going into MARY POPPINS RETURNS I was in a terrible mood. With allergies killing my head, a long list of last minute holiday stuff, and sundown at 5:30, I was feeling less than inspired to head out to the theater. But I had promised my son that we would go to an early screening of the sequel to the 1964 Disney classic, and I intended to follow through. Two hours and ten minutes later, my entire attitude changed to one of happiness and gratitude after beholding Rob Marshall’s latest masterpiece.
This new chapter in the Poppins universe finds the Banks siblings, Michael and Jane, all grown up. Jane is a worker’s rights advocate, and her recently widowed brother is struggling to cope with raising three young children on his own. Michael and his brood have taken over he and his sister’s cherished childhood home, and he is struggling to make ends meet in the aftermath of his wife’s passing. When lawyers show up to foreclose on the homestead after Michael defaults on the loan he borrowed against the house, the Banks set out on a mission to find their father’s bank share certificates that will ensure the family stays in their home. In the meantime, Michael’s children are left to fend for themselves, having become accustomed to doing so after losing their mother. Soon though, a fortuitous wind blows through their London neighborhood carrying with it the magical nanny who, once again in her own peculiar way, shows the whole family what is truly important in life.
I cannot go on enough about how perfectly executed MARY POPPINS RETURNS is. From Marshalls’s sumptuous visualization of early 20th century London to Marc Shaiman’s incredible score and original songs to Sandy Powell’s stunning costume design, MARY POPPINS RETURNS is an irresistible confection from beginning to end. In addition to the gorgeous live action sights and sounds, Marshall stays true to the spirit of the original film with animated fantasy sequences in the style of the classic ‘60s Disney greats.
While some could argue that the new chapter parallels the original film a tad too closely (lamplighters replace chimney sweeps, labor rights replaces women suffrage, etc) these similarities feel like an old friend rather than a simple retread. The familiar framework provides the structure for even bigger and more fantastic adventures for the next generation of Banks children as well as ours.
As in most Disney tales, the loss of the children’s mother provides an opportunity for ample bittersweet song and reflection, resulting in not one but two incredibly poignant and heart wrenching ballads that ground the otherwise whimsical mood of the film.
For fans of the original movie, it seems nearly sacrilege to replace the beloved Julie Andrews in the titular role, but I am more than pleased to report that Emily Blunt is practically perfect in every way (oh yes I did). She sublimely encompasses the shrewd manner of the no nonsense nanny, completely making Poppins her very own with a wonderfully charming and versatile performance. And she can sing! Though it is impossible to top Andrews vocals, Blunt completely holds her own with a surprisingly lovely singing voice. Seeing Blunt master the prim countenance as well as the physicality and vocal range of the many song and dance numbers is an absolute delight to behold. I loved her before, and now I am awestruck by her seemingly endless talent.
Coming off the monstrous success of his Broadway mega hit Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda is perfectly charming as Jack, the neighborhood lamplighter. While his character provides a sort of wrap around “chorus” for the musical, Jack also joins Mary and the children in their adventures and his role even plays into the plot of the film nicely. Though his character is a bit on the earnest side, his overall likability and incredible talent adds just the right amount of musical theater gravitas to the big screen.
If I have to point out a few minor gripes, one would be the simmering love connection between Jane and Jack. Though Marshall thankfully doesn’t push the subplot too hard, the matchmaking does feel a bit out of place. Additionally, there are two musical numbers that just barely miss the mark. One- in which Meryl Streep cameos as Mary's cousin in a cheerful romp- ends up feeling like, “Let’s create a scene for this Oscar winning actress so she can appear in the film.” No doubt the sequence is a ton of fun, but ultimately it just felt a bit unnecessary. The other slight misstep is one of the final songs which features Jack leading an army of lamplighters in one of the grander musical numbers in the film. Obviously a nod to Dick Van Dyke’s beloved Step In Time, the sequence and its touch of modern choreography (plus head-scratching bike tricks) feels somewhat forced and pales in comparison to its predecessor. Again, its a really enjoyable and memorable musical number, but it just didn't click like everything else.
Aside from these relatively inconsequential faults, MARY POPPINS RETURNS is wonderful. It explores new territory while hanging onto the whimsical themes that made us fall for Mary the first time. It is visually stunning, beautifully heartwarming (as well as heartbreaking), and musically impressive. I recommend this film for everyone- not just those of us who will undoubtedly get caught up in the major nostalgia factor. MARY POPPINS RETURNS is more than just an ode to a beloved story and character, it is a fully realized musical classic that will stand on its own for years to come. Definitely check it out on the big screen while you have the chance. Thanks for reading!
Until next time,
Aka Annette Kellerman