It’s been 54 years since ‘Mary Poppins’ came out, so it’s definitely been a while in terms of sequel making. ‘Chicago’ and ‘Into the Woods’ director Rob Marshall in charge of this one, would the gap seem like a pleasant breeze or should it have been a one time only deal?
The Banks children; Michael and Jane (Ben Whishaw & Emily Mortimer) are 30 years older but with their father’s home on the line it seems the skies need to send down the witchy wisdom of Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) once again. She is on hand to help Michael’s three children and with the assistance of lamplighter Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda), a new generation of Banks’ will witness the brilliance of Mary.
The 1964 original is a bonafide classic and appears on UK televisions pretty much every seasonal opportunity, so there was no fear that Disney couldn’t pull in audiences with a sequel but does a new Mary capture the same fire? Almost is the answer. It takes a while to really get into the swing of things, even Mary’s arrival doesn’t kick-start the fun, once the characters crack on into the China bowl then the musical gets into its stride. The ending is fairly flat too, like a balloon flopping to the floor when you’d wish it’d soar but the middle is grand.
It can easily be seen that this movie is cashing in on the nostalgia appeal of which Disney is definitely not shy of lately; what with 3 House of Mouse remakes landing in 2019. This plot feels like it’s just hopping from song to song with a faint thread of banking troubles to link them all together, but smile past this and you’ve got a toe-tapping film which is enjoyable for the whole family.
‘Mary Poppins Returns’ is almost as sweet as the marmalade goodness and Britishness featured in the ‘Paddington’ films and what with Julie Walters playing virtually the same character and two Peruvian bears in the cast, it does feel like Disney are aiming for that charm just within the olde style of England and Poppins universe. There is a charm to be found but it doesn’t feel bold, it feels like it’s just leaning too heavily on what’s come before.
In terms of musical numbers they’re not exactly memorable ditties but they are alright in their own way. ‘Trip a Little Light Fantastic’ is the ‘Chim Chim Cher-ee’ of the movie but wonderfully dings with 1930’s BMXing and lamppost choreography instead of leaping sweepers. ‘The Royal Doulton Music Hall’ is a bouncy bop and ‘A Cover is Not the Book’ is the best song by a mile.
Those last two songs appear in the aforementioned China bowl sequence which is the highlight of the entire film. The production value throughout the movie is stellar but especially so in this part. The crockery world features 2D drawings and painted costuming as Mary, Jack and the 3 Banks’ find themselves surrounded by celebrating animated folk making for a marvellous section in the story.
Blunt is practically perfect in every way and brings the strict yet nonsense-making, magic mistress quality of Julie Andrews to life. She encapsulates the sheen of the film in its better moments. Lin-Manuel Miranda easily tackles the songs as you’d expect from Hamilton master; his tongue twisting storytelling in ‘A Cover is Not the Book’ is pure exhilaration to listen to, Miranda also busts some of his own moves as Bert 2.0 and manoeuvres around the Cockney twang as he pleases but is better than what Dick van Dyke did years ago. Speaking of which, his return is sublime and you can’t help but beam as he dusts off some dance steps. If only they hadn’t revealed his involvement, the appearance would have been an even finer cinematic moment. Meryl Streep and her Russian flavoured role is a hoot and filled with joy, it is a scene that mirrors ‘I Love to Laugh’ but it looks amazing and is catchy.
So whilst the fantastical journey of Mary Poppins’ homecoming isn’t overly magical, it’s saved by the talented duo of Blunt and Miranda.