It’s been more than 54 years since Mary Poppins sang her way into the hearts of filmgoers. Although P.L. Travers had written many more stories about our favorite magical nanny, it became increasingly hard to believe we’d ever see a new script, soundtrack, or cast that would even come close to rivaling the film that stole the hearts of a generation. With “Mary Poppins Returns”, they’ve done exactly that.
This wondrous film provides all the magic, music, and mischief found in the original masterpiece and is practically as good as any Disney movie in recent history.
“Mary Poppins Returns” finds us in 1930’s London during the United Kingdom’s version of the Great Depression known as “The Great Slump”. The Banks children are all grown up and Michael (Ben Whishaw) is living in their family home (yep, right there on good old 17 Cherry Tree Lane) with his 3 children; Anabel (Pixie Davies), John (Nathanael Saleh), and Georgie (Joel Dawson). They are frequently visited by Michael’s sister, Jane Banks (Emily Mortimer), who works to help the city’s laborers.
Unfortunately, Michael and his family have recently suffered an enormous personal loss. This leaves them, and their home, in quite a bit of disarray. However, this is also what brings Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) back into their lives.
She, along with her lamplighter friend Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda), lead the family on a new series of escapades, with a little singing and dancing along the way, as they try to get the Banks family back on track.
This was one of the difficulties we felt would hamper any sequel to the original “Mary Poppins”. I mean seriously, Julie Andrews won an Oscar for her portrayal as Mary Poppins! Despite his, uh, questionable cockney accent, Dick Van Dyke was still terrific as he showcased both his great physical and literal comedic skills as Bert. David Tomlinson also pulled off a very underrated turn as the family’s patriarch, Mr. George Banks.
That cast was amazing!
It was hard to fathom that it could ever be matched. Well, “Mary Poppins Returns” did it. This ensemble could not be more perfect for this film and Writer/Director Rob Marshall does a masterful job leading them.
Emily Blunt plays our favorite British nanny exquisitely. She excellently straddles the fence of staying true to the original character while adding her own edge at the same time. And oh her voice. That was something we didn’t expect. Don’t get us wrong. We knew she could sing. She had showcased that ability already for Disney in “Into the Woods” (another Marshall-directed musical). However, it really shines here. It’s not on the level of Julie Andrews (let’s be honest, few people anywhere are on that level), but each time she sings it brought joy to our hearts. Expect her name to come up early and often during award season.
Jack the Lamplighter
Lin-Manuel Miranda also is allowed to showcase so many of his skills in this movie. Yes, he even flashes a little touch of his Hamilton abilities. His Jack steps right into the familiar role of Bert from the original. Always there balancing the reality that is London at the time with those magical moments Mary Poppins provides, and always with a knowing smile. If you didn’t love Miranda before this film, you definitely will at the end.
The Banks Children
Pixie Davies, Nathanael Saleh, and Joel Dawson provide strong performances as the Banks children who struggle with growing up too early in the wake of their family’s tragedy.
Ben Whishaw (Michael) and Emily Mortimer (Jane) do a phenomenal job of portraying adult versions of the children from the original film who are finding themselves falling into the same traps which many of us find ourselves: becoming our parents.
The Bad Guy
Meanwhile, Colin Firth’s William Weatherall Wilkins, the top boss at the bank within which Michael is now employed, provides a part that was missing in the original film. An actual singular villain. In the original film, yes, there were struggles and the bank partners were somewhat nasty, but the struggles in the story came more internally instead of from a lone antagonist. With Wilkins, “Mary Poppins Returns” definitely has that.
Boy, did we dislike him! I mean, we just detested that character. A sure sign of an admirable performance.
Again, the music was another area we felt would be a real struggle for any new Mary Poppins film. It would be nearly impossible to match the soundtrack crafted so perfectly for the original by the Sherman Brothers. While it may have not quite reached that level, the music in this movie fits it almost perfectly.
Marc Shaiman masterfully constructed an entirely new score that feels like it could fit right within the original film with lots of new toe-tapping numbers. He even consulted with Richard Sherman to assure the music felt true to its predecessor.
The songs swing emotionally from pure joyfulness to absolute heartbreak and back again. There were several times the tunes brought tears to our eyes followed by the urge to stand up and cheer at their conclusion. However, that would’ve been frowned upon in this “press screening” setting. We didn’t care. We applauded anyway!
Oh, and during one number there’s even a nod to another Rob Marshall award winner, “Chicago”.
“Mary Poppins Returns” strikes a rich balance once again in its locations and settings. The park, the rooftops, and Cherry Tree Lane look just like you remember them. Yet, somehow, they’ve all evolved, as well.
But let’s talk about the best parts of both this and the original “Mary Poppins”; the magical moments.
This is where the balance is struck best. The use of modern techniques is abundant and provides a bright new life to these dreamlike occurrences. At the same time, just like with the score, several of these scenes would slide perfectly into the original. They even coerced several animators out of retirement just so they could re-create the feel of the 2-D animation from “Mary Poppins”. It’s nearly perfect and definitely one of the best parts of the movie.
Our Final Conclusion
If you haven’t realized it at this point, we absolutely loved this film. Rob Marshall has crafted a brilliant modern musical for this generation while staying true to the feel of the original. It’s nostalgic and yet modern all at the same time. This film will certainly become the next Disney Classic.
And, yes, we’ve been dancing around the cliché for much of this review. But we can’t keep it in anymore. That’s right. “Mary Poppins Returns” is practically perfect in every way!