Mary Poppins Returns
2018, PG, 130 min. Directed by Rob Marshall. Starring Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ben Whishaw, Emily Mortimer, Pixie Davies, Nathanael Saleh, Joel Dawson, Julie Walters, Colin Firth, Meryl Streep, David Warner.
REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., Dec. 21, 2018
A blustery wind blows from the east once again to carry everyone’s favorite no-nonsense nanny to Cherry Tree Lane in this happy sequel to the beloved 1964 Walt Disney movie that charmed children everywhere over half a century ago. Mary Poppins Returns shamelessly coddles those same baby boomers today with the memory of the earlier film, slavishly mimicking its frequent musical numbers and cross-referencing its familiar storyline to the point that it’s almost like watching two movies at once. Is that a bad thing? Not really. For no matter how derivative this carefully calculated sentimental journey may be, there’s still an undeniable magic in its voice and its step likely to enchant adults – and hopefully kids – alike. Uncle Walt would be proud.
The threadbare plot, featuring more than one dangling narrative thread, focuses on the effort to find the bank stock certificates needed to avoid foreclosure on the Banks family’s cherished London home, approximately two or so decades after Mary Poppins first administered a spoonful of sugar to cure the same family of its dysfunctional ills. Their parents deceased, a distraught Michael Banks (Whishaw) is now a recently widowed clerk with three young children to raise, while a cheerier Jane Banks (Mortimer) is a single young woman following in her late mother’s progressive footsteps by pursuing the social cause of labor rights. Chimney sweep Bert has apparently died, but his apprentice Jack (Miranda) alights from a bicycle each evening to light the city’s street lamps, ladder in tow. And, of course, there’s the spit-spot Miss Poppins (Blunt, filling Julie Andrews’ out-turned shoes nicely), who hasn’t aged a bit in the intervening years, still pleasantly perfect in every way as she slides up banisters and saves yet another Mr. Banks from emotional stoicism before opening her umbrella to depart on another gusty day, her work accomplished.
Along with Sandy Powell’s bold costume design of stripes and plaids, the fantasy interludes are the movie’s strong suit, with the splashy song “Can You Imagine That?” kicking things into high gear as the trio of children slide feet-first into a bubbly bathtub to magically experience a high-spirited, underwater adventure that quickly convinces the Banks offspring that Mary Poppins is no ordinary nanny. Other musical numbers mirror those in the original film, such as Jack and his fellow lamplighters’ athletically choreographed, parkour-inspired “Trip a Little Light Fantastic,” a rousing sequence taking its cue from the chimney sweeps’ near-as-physically demanding rooftop production of “Step in Time” in the first film. And, thankfully, there are a couple of elaborate mixed animation/live action numbers on par with the chalk-drawing song-and-dance sequences performed by Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke, with classic anthropomorphic cartoon characters (the penguins are back!) still drawn in old-school style. It’s enough to make an old guy with a strong sentimental streak smile, ear to ear.