Movie review: Mary Poppins Returns

The characters from the 1964 original have grown up

Mary Poppins Returns (Mary Poppins se vrací)
Directed by Rob Marshall
With Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Meryl Streep, Colin Firth, Ben Whishaw, Emily Mortimer, Julie Walters, Dick Van Dyke, Angela Lansbury, Pixie Davies, Nathanael Saleh, Joel Dawson, David Warner, Jim Norton, Jeremy Swift, Craig Stein

Disney has gotten back on track with its holiday entertainment. Mary Poppins Returns, a sequel to the 1964 classic musical Mary Poppins, offers up some old-fashioned family entertainment that doesn’t stray too far from the tried and true formula of the original. It is far better than the dismal Nutcracker and the Four Realms.

The children from the original Mary Poppins film, Michael and Jane Banks, are now grown up. Michael (played by Ben Whishaw) lives in the family house and has children of his own, while Jane (Emily Mortimer) has become a labor organizer and lives in an apartment in London.

In typical Disney fashion, Michael’s wife and the children’s mother has passed away, leaving the grieving father to raise his kids alone.

Michael is more of an artist than a bank clerk, and in his own absentminded way he has forgotten to pay back the mortgage on the family house. This sets the main plot into action, as the bank where Michael works is now demanding the entire loan be paid back at once.

This sour turn of affairs seems hopeless until Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) sails out of the sky on a kite and announces she will be once again getting the Banks family into order.
For those who missed the original, the character of Mary Poppins has some magical powers that blend with children’s fantasies.

Blunt is up to the task of replacing Julie Andrews, who had the role in the original. Blunt makes the character a bit more strict on the outside, but always has a bit of knowing smile showing the strictness has a purpose.

She immediately sets out looking after the kids Annabel (Pixie Davies), John (Nathanael Saleh) and Georgie (Joel Dawson), though they have learned to look after themselves.

Annabel, in particular, has taken over a lot of the responsibilities since her mother died. It is really the father who needs Mary Poppins’ help.

The film is a musical, and like its predecessor mixes songs with animation. These again are the highlights of the film, though the animation this time is a bit better than the less than memorable songs. One of the animated sequences, an homage to the film Cabaret, gets a little dark and might frighten some young ones. It delves deep into the Disney theme of children being vulnerable to villainous adults.

The actual animation, set in the world of an illustration on a glazed bowl, though, is colorful and brilliantly done.

Meryl Streep gets fairly high billing in the film, but just turns up for one scene as a Topsy, the odd Eastern European cousin of Mary Poppins. She runs a fix-it shop. The elaborate scene is another crowd pleaser but adds little to the actual plot. It seems inspired a bit by the Harry Potter films, with cluttered magic shops down hidden alleys.

Much more important to the film is Lin-Manuel Miranda as the lamplighter Jack. He was an assistant to Bert, one of the characters played by Dick Van Dyke, in the original, who has now grown up. Dick Van Dyke himself, now in his 90s, makes a small cameo in the film.

Jack seems to have an ongoing relationship with Mary Poppins, aiding her in her various quests to save people. Jack has a weak singing voice but brings the required upbeat and smiley attitude to push the film over the top.

As long-delayed sequels go, Mary Poppins Returns does admirably well in both respecting the source material and moving the characters forward.

But it plays it very safe, not rocking the boat at all. Even the animation is a bit retro in its style. None of the new songs live up the original, which featured “A Spoonful of Sugar” and other hits of the era. The score already has a Golden Globe nomination, though.

The film itself also has nominations for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy as well as for the lead roles. The acting nominations in particular are well deserved.

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