WALT DISNEY STUDIOS MOTION PICTURES (2018)
Director: Rob Marshall
Starring: Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ben Whishaw, Emily Mortimer, Julie Walters, Dick Van Dyke, Angela Lansbury, Colin Firth, Meryl Streep
Well, that’s how everyone remembers the 1964 classic Mary Poppins, complete with Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke singing and dancing through the streets of London. Fast-forward to 2018 and the prodigious nanny is back, this time with Emily Blunt stepping into the red heels in Rob Marshall’s sequel-cum-homage Mary Poppins Returns but, fear not, the singing and dancing very much remains.
Set thirty years after Mary Poppins, Michael Banks (Whishaw) is widowed with three children and finds himself in severe financial difficulties – to the point that the family home in Cherry Tree Lane is up for repossession. Whilst his sister Jane (Mortimer) tries valiantly to help find the one certificate that will save everything, help comes in the form of the magical Mary Poppins (Blunt) who arrives just in time to help the Bank’s and, of course, deliver adventure, fun and some singing too.
Fifty-four years after that first movie, Disney decides to drop a sequel to a beloved movie – it all seemed a bit left-field, they clearly don’t need the money that Mary Poppins Returns will absolutely bring in. So what was their reasoning? To be honest, god knows, but thankfully this sequel feels earned and, crucially, works. Not all of it, mind, but it’ll take a hard heart not to leave the auditorium with even a hint of a smile. In the titular role, Emily Blunt is simply sublime – there’s no aping Julie Andrews here, Blunt plays the character with a stern (yet somewhat sassy) approach full of prim properness but she never loses sight of the fun aspect. In fact, during the more fantastical scenes, she’s clearly having a blast. Blunt’s performance was always going to be the key factor that the success of the movie would hinge upon, so that was a major relief. Ben Whishaw and Miranda, too, are very good as the struggling father and cockney lamplighter respectively and it’ll always be a pleasure to watch Colin Firth chew the scenery as the ‘villain’. On the flipside, what the hell was anyone thinking with that Meryl Streep cameo? Holy hell. Certainly not one for the Academy…
A slow start soon makes way for some stunning visual explosions as we are whisked straight back to those sixties-style animation/live-action hybrids and boy, oh boy – the highlight being the China Bowl sequence which is the major hat-doff to the original but feels fresh and looks simply incredible. Every time we are treated to the signature animation was a real treat for the eyes. Music-wise, there’s nothing here that really stands out as memorable or particularly great, but the songs are solid and the routines likewise, though one lamplighter sequence felt shoehorned right in. Mary Poppins Returns dips at that point but returns for a fun, if not spectacular, third act resolution – the actual denouement, however, is a floating joy to watch. A lot of the issues with the movie fall in the lap of Rob Marshall and his mundane direction of those non-animated portions (i.e. the majority), I couldn’t escape the thought that a more stylistic director could have enjoyed more success.
On the plus, side there’s only one iffy Cockney accent this time, as opposed to potentially two!
Resisting the urge to remake the iconic Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious and A Spoonful of Sugar was inspired (opting instead for subtle motifs) and worked to the movies benefit, it didn’t need those garish throwbacks and Returns stands alone by itself with nods, hint, and homages to its older predecessor proving the perfect way to honour the huge legacy of Mary Poppins. Emily Blunt makes the role her own with an infectious haughtiness and there’s far more to enjoy throughout than not. It may not be practically perfect in every way, but it’s still a fine, worthy sequel to a bona fide classic.
December 21st 2018