In the wake of Disney live action remakes and sequels, there were always going to be lots of eyes on the Mary Poppins follow up. When it was announced that fifty years after Walt Disney brought the original P.L. Travers’ famed character Mary Poppins to screen, and after the successes of the live adaptations of Beauty and the Beast and The Jungle Book, it really could be sink or swim with this classic. After all the original is one of the most popular films of all time. It garnered Julie Andrew’s an Academy Award nomination. It changed special effects in cinema forever. It spawned the storytelling of Saving Mr. Banks and become a cultural icon that defined childhoods for years.
With the bar set so high there was a lot riding on director Rob Marshall’s follow up, bringing Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) back to life, this time with the children she once cared for Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw) and his sister Jane (Emily Mortimer) grown up with their own problems. Set during the Great Depression in the 1930s, Michael now has three children of his own, Annabel, John and Georgie, also struggling to make ends meet after his wife passes away. When Michael finds out he only has a few days to pay off the loan on their family home in full, the search is on to find paperwork with confirmation of shares in the bank that dear old Mr. Banks worked at back in the original.
Fortunately at this point is where Mary appears, arriving down a kite, with as finesse and gumption as in the original, but with more bite than bark. Not only is she there to help Michael’s children who are suffering after the loss of their mother but also Michael and Jane themselves. With some help from lamplighter Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda), the splitting copy of Dick Van Dyke’s Bert from the original, the children and adults learn a lot of lessons from the duo and ultimately the film finds a similar heart beating as its core as the original.
There are many things to like about Mary Poppins Returns. It’s a fun and energetic film that’s heart is really rooted in the magic of the first film. The script adapts characters and elements from all Mary Poppins novels written by Travers, evoking the spirit of the material better yet integrating more contemporary thematic concerns into its storyline. It pays homage in a huge way to the original Mary Poppins, following many of the same beats, the same tricks and the same pacing that at times it feels like its almost a carbon copy, with updated effects and a more stern Mary performed by Blunt.
Each musical sequence is sublime in staging and choreography, really recreating the magic of older films, particularly with the lamplighter scene for the song “Trip A Little Light Fantastic” is a highlight of the film. A soaring emotional journey ultimately breaks from the beat by beat storytelling. “A Conversation” is a moving and poignant song that brings a tear to the eye.
Blunt really is excellent as the new Mary Poppins, as I mentioned with a more stern approach, quiet wit and exuding wisdom. There is no reason for her to mimic Andrews and she doesn’t try. Miranda is also noteworthy for his addition to the film. Whishaw and Mortimer are also good here, as are supporting roles played by Meryl Streep and Colin Firth.
At the same time the rest of the songs are not as memorable as the ones in the original, and the story can feel rushed at times, even without a solid plot pushing it forward all the time. But alas the film really does deserve credit for going above relying on nostalgia, and while Nanny McPhee tried to update the story for modern audiences years back, Mary Poppins Returns uses its platform to teach the children of today and appeals to the older generations who watched it when they were younger.
It’s a fun filled, albeit simple film that is the perfect way to start the year in film off, with laughter and tears that take you back to another time. With a more modern look and more striking visual style, the film is a top notch children’s film that is enjoyable but also makes you want to watch the original.
Tributes to the original abound, Mary Poppins Returns to give nostalgic viewers a solid sequel that appeals to both adults and children.
It’s not the original and can seem like a copy at times, if you’re willing to look past that…
Originally published on Back Row, January 25, 2019.