MARY POPPINS RETURNS (8 out of 10) Directed by Rob Marshall; Written by David McGee; Starring Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ben Wishaw, Emily Mortimer, Meryl Streep, Colin Firth; Rated PG for some mild thematic elements and brief action; Running time 130 minutes; In wide release December 19, 2018.
It’s hard to imagine a Mary Poppins movie without Julie Andrews or the timeless lyrics of Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.
But Mary Poppins Returns manages to capture the spirit of Mary Poppins without destroying our childhoods. There’s some kite flying and a visit to the bank, so not all is different from the original. And Mary Poppins still carries that bottomless carpetbag, along with her talking umbrella that allows her to soar into the sky and then very gracefully step back onto the ground.
Set some decades after the original film, Mary Poppins Returns reintroduces us to Jane (Emily Mortimer) and Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw) as grownups. Michael, recently widowed, struggles to care for his three young children. An artist-turned-bank teller, he still can’t quite manage to get the house and finances in order.
Jane is the high-spirited sister/aunt, and Lin-Manuel Miranda of Hamilton fame plays Jack, a lamplighter who is acquainted with both Bert and Mary Poppins.
It would be impossible to compare Emily Blunt‘s depiction of Poppins to that of Julie Andrews. Julie Andrews is incomparable. However, Blunt is practically perfect in every way. A bit of cheeky humor here and there combined with over-the-top propriety. No matter what magic she weaves, she is always prim and proper.
The songs are catchy and fit well within the story. It will take several more viewings and repeat listening to really gauge which are my favorites, but the underwater song and the lullaby seem to stand out. Several also have counterparts to the original Mary Poppins film. Instead of chimney sweeps, Jack and his lamplighter friends do a major musical number. (And the Spielberg fan in me was reminded of the bicycle chase scene in E.T. I looked around to see if anyone else saw it, but no, it was just me.) And rather than jumping into a chalk drawing, Mary Poppins and the children go inside a Royal Dalton vase for animated adventures. The journeys into imagination are filled with fun and frivolity, and Blunt is absolutely delightful when she’s being playful with the children.
But of course this isn’t the Mary Poppins that we grew up with. If we wanted that, then we could simply re-watch that for the hundredth time. This is a reimagining, a sequel, an homage. Something new and fun to look at that does not take away from the original film in the slightest. And if there isn’t enough nostalgia in the film for those who are a little harder to convince, Dick Van Dyke reprises a role, and, despite his age, doesn’t miss a step.
I left the theater smiling and heartily recommend.