UK Release Date: 21st December 2018
Runtime: 130 minutes
Director: Rob Marshall
Writer: David Magee
Starring: Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ben Whishaw, Emily Mortimer, Colin Firth, Meryl Streep, Pixie Davies, Nathanael Saleh, Joel Dawson, Julie Walters
Synopsis: With a crisis brewing in the Banks household, Mary Poppins decides the time is right to make her return in order to fix things, in her unique way.
If there’s one thing that everyone in Britain can agree on, it’s that 2018 has been a troubling 12 months. The ongoing chaos of Brexit has emphasised divisions, not only within the population but within families. Meanwhile, Piers Morgan is still a thing and some idiot with a drone just managed to cock up one of our busiest airports for the best part of a week. In a world riddled by all of this nonsense, Mary Poppins Returns should be the stuff of prescription. Quickly washing away any apprehension about following up an untouchable classic, the film is an unambiguously joyful slice of big screen fun.
Emily Blunt, complete with an arsenal of clipped vowels, is the new Poppins and breezes into the life of the Banks family on the end of a kite, being held by the youngest of Michael Banks’s (Ben Whishaw) kids. Michael has fallen on hard times since the death of his wife just a few months prior and, despite the help of his sister Jane (Emily Mortimer), the bank is threatening to take his home. While Michael and Jane search for a crucial document in their untidy home, our titular magical nanny and her lamp-lighter friend (Lin-Manuel Miranda) show the children some fantastical adventures that just might give them the tools to break Michael out of his funk. As anyone who has seen Saving Mr Banks knows, it’s never about the kids.
Director Rob Marshall, who has made his name as a movie-musical maestro, takes the decision to cling tightly to the narrative structure and beats of the 1964 film. The part-animated sequence now takes place inside an ornate piece of crockery (“we’re in China, so to speak” quips Miranda) rather than street art and Meryl Streep‘s upside-down fixer replaces the ceiling tea party, while the chimney sweep dance sequence now has the added benefit of bicycle tricks and a skit about Cockney rhyming slang. It’s certainly true that Marshall’s film follows the path of least resistance, but it skips along it with delightful merriment.
That charm is evident from the first moments, as Miranda sings a pleasant ditty about the “lovely London sky”, which leads into a gorgeous, watercolour credits sequence. The entire movie unfolds with all of the wholesome fun that anyone could hope to see, even delivering a neat Paddington reference early on when Whishaw’s Mr Banks declares there’s only “pickled herring and marmalade” in the pantry. By the time Blunt smiles and utters a “here we go” before plunging into an underwater animated bathtub sequence, it’s impossible not to be smiling from ear to ear.
Blunt herself is an enjoyable presence as Poppins, assisted by Miranda’s deeply lovable Leerie. By the time they join forces for the music hall homage of ‘A Cover is Not the Book’, they’ve cemented themselves as a memorable duo capable of bringing the house down when they open their mouths to sing, even in the midst of an animated sequence that exists solely as nostalgic fun rather than out of storyline necessity. The same is certainly true of Emily Mortimer’s wasted Jane Banks, whose workers’ rights activist character fails to make the impact of the first film’s satirically terrible suffragette. By simply reheating the first movie’s elements, it occasionally has the whiff of a slightly disappointing microwave meal.
The first film’s cutting commentary about capitalism has failed to make the transition into Mary Poppins Returns. This time around, Colin Firth is the evil boss of the Fidelity Fiduciary Bank – the ominous use of the bank’s theme music from the original is a smart touch – but there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of commentary about it. He’s just evil because the narrative needs a villain, rather than out of any desire to make a serious point. When he appears as an animated wolf in the porcelain bowl world, it feels a little too on the nose, and in fact one final twist seems to roll back one of the main lessons of the first film’s heartfelt conclusion through a Dick Van Dyke cameo that was unnecessarily spoiled in the trailers.
All of these concerns, though, are ultimately secondary to the sheer joy that Mary Poppins Returns provides in almost every scene. The musical numbers are immediately memorable – Blunt’s mournful lullaby ‘The Place Where Lost Things Go’ is a guaranteed tear-jerker – and the overriding feeling is one of simple affection. Marshall knows why the original Mary Poppins is a classic and so he is content to simply enhance the visual style and let the nostalgia do most of his job for him. And when the nostalgic feel is this strong – this supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, one could say – that’s a perfectly valid choice. A spoonful of nostalgia, it seems, helps the unnecessary sequel go down.
Pop or Poop?
There’s little that’s new in Mary Poppins Returns, which essentially just reworks the structure of the original film. However, it’s got bundles of nostalgic charm seeping from its every visually stunning frame, with Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda clearly having the time of their lives.
It’s unlikely to sustain the same classic reputation as its 1964 predecessor, but this is in many ways the perfect movie for the festive season. Mary Christmas to all!
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.