This Poppins revival will at once reinvigorate your love for the 1964 classic and make you fall head over heals for the no-nonsense nanny all over again.
Every so often a film comes along that entices critics to compete in a death-match for the finest pun-based headline. Mary Poppins Returns is just such an event. Loved the film? It’s Super(califragilisticexpialidocious). Think it’s almost 5-star fare? It’s Practically Perfect in Every Way. Hate it? Well, then it’s Something Quite Atrocious.
It’s all a bit frivolous really, until you remember that this childlike sense of silliness is exactly what Mary Poppins is about. It’s quite endearing, in which case, that us stuffy critics are entering into the spirit of the thing. Mary Poppins Returns is the spoonful of sugar we all need to enter 2019 with a skip in our step and, short of being the same kind of grumpy and ruthless as Colin Firth’s William Weatherall Wilkins of Fidelity Fiduciary Bank, it’ll put a smile on your face and a song in your heart.
It is very clear that Disney recognises the importance of the original film to its fans and the whimsy and charm that made it a classic. Love for the original seeps from every frame of this sequel, in which we revisit Cherry Tree Lane to find the now grown up Michael Banks (the brilliant Ben Whishaw) is mourning the loss of his wife. Michael’s three children Annabel, John and Georgie are helping to keep their house from falling down around their ears with the help of their auntie, Jane Banks (Emily Mortimer), and housekeeper Ellen (Julie Walters). It’s not until the bank come knocking to demand a full loan repayment, however, that the Banks family could really do with some help from an old friend.
Seeing the distant outline of Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) as she glides down from the skies is nothing short of magical. From the moment Mary enters the Banks’ home for the second time, we know we’re in safe hands; she every bit as pristine and vain as ever but with an new and uber-posh spin that is reassuringly Poppins and not at all Julie Andrews impersonation.
Mary Poppins Returns is made in the vein of a film from 50 years ago, increasing those nostalgic warm fuzzies tenfold. Harking back to the days of the original, we are presented with full credits at the start of the film to the backdrop of some glorious paintings of the set and a compilation of the songs to come. The adventures of the children, too, are reminiscent of the original film, as while Mary Poppins initially takes them on an underwater adventure that utilises the CG effects that we’re now so accustomed to, a later excursion into the world of a Royal Doulton bowl sees the cast interact with cartoon animations in a flawless, classic Poppins dreamscape.
Lin-Manuel Miranda lights up the screen as the ‘new Bert’ – a lamplighter by the name of Jack who first introduces us to the world of 1935 London with the faintly memorable but entirely original opening song (Underneath the) Lovely London Sky. It’s to composer Marc Shaiman’s great credit that the original, searing songs of this sequel have an old-timey, classic sound that could easily have featured in the 1964 film. We don’t get any of the songs of the original Mary Poppins, but we don’t need them either. Give them time and tunes such as Trip a Little Light Fantastic and A Cover Is Not the Book will be as loved as the tunes that inspired them.
The character of Jane could have been better established as a fierce campaigner like her mother, as without holding her placards we have very little inclination of her political passion, nor idea of how her life shaped out since we first met her. We could have also done with more of Julie Walters and her talent for slapstick humour, as it felt at times that her hapless maid was reigned back to allow the story to keep trotting on at a merry pace, while a sequence with a pack of animated wolves outstayed its welcome by a few minutes. Ultimately, though, there is so little to dislike about this film that you’d have to be actively looking for chinks in this colourful bowl. It’s a whirlwind of wonderful music and warm intentions as Mary Poppins once again brings joy back into the lives of the children – and more crucially the adults – who sorely needed it.