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Review: Mary Poppins Returns

December 19, 2018

By John Corrado

★★★★ (out of 4)

Arriving a whole 54 years after the 1964 original, Mary Poppins Returns breaks the record for the longest amount of time between the release of a sequel and that of its predecessor.

This would be an interesting fact on its own, but it would be little more than that if Mary Poppins Returns failed to live up to the first one. But thankfully this long belated sequel, which is directed by Rob Marshall and stars a superb Emily Blunt, who takes over from Julie Andrews in the iconic title role, is an absolutely worthy companion piece to the Walt Disney classic.

The story picks up a few decades after the events of the first film, with the Banks children now fully grown up, and having all but forgotten their experiences as kids under the care of their magical nanny. Michael (Ben Whishaw) has children of his own – Anabel (Pixie Davies), John (Nathanael Saleh) and Georgie (Joel Dawson) – who he is tasked with raising as a single father after his wife passed away. Jane (Emily Mortimer) has taken up their mother’s mantle as a political activist, organizing rallies and fighting for the rights of disenfranchised union workers in London.

But Michael has fallen on tough times and is at risk of losing their childhood house on Cherry Tree Lane to a conniving banker (Colin Firth), unless he can pay back his loan within a week. His last best hope lies in finding the certificate proving that their father left them shares in the bank, but he seems to have misplaced it amidst the junk in the attic. This is where Mary Poppins comes in, returning in their hour of need to help look after Anabel, John and Georgie, and take them on some wondrous adventures with the charming lamplighter Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda).

Released just two years before his death in 1966, Mary Poppins is widely considered to be one of Walt Disney’s crowning achievements. Adapted from the books by P.L. Travers, which he fought long and hard to bring to the screen, as documented in the wonderful 2013 film Saving Mr. Banks, it remains a beloved work both for its classic songs and great performances by Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke.

All of these things make it very hard to craft a worthy followup, but Mary Poppins Returns really feels like something that could have been made in the same decade as the original, capturing the feeling of a classic musical quite nicely. The film is beautifully crafted, and there is a certain old school charm to much of it that makes it a delight to watch, filled with so many wonderful moments along the way.

The original also served as an incredible technical achievement for the way that it blended live action and animation, so it’s fitting that one of the best sequences in Mary Poppins Returns comes when they travel into a ceramic Royal Doulton bowl, and enter into a glorious 2D animated world. It’s awesome to see Disney playing around with traditional animation again, and this sequence is one of the greatest tributes to the first film, including an appearance by those adorable penguin waiters.

No matter what you may think of Marshall’s other work (Chicago, Nine, Into the Woods), the director does know his way around musicals, and he stages some great numbers here. While only time will tell if these songs are able to take on the same iconic qualities as the beloved tunes that Richard and Robert Sherman wrote for the first one, the new songs by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman are all quite good in their own ways and fit well with the story.

“The Place Where the Lost Things Go” is a lovely tune that is reminiscent of “Feed the Birds”, providing one of the sweetest moments when Blunt sings it, and taking on even more emotional resonance during a reprise later on. “A Cover is the Not the Book” is an incredibly fun song that provides the basis for a dazzling burlesque-inspired music hall number that mixes elements of live action and animation, and also allows Lin Manuel-Miranda to show off his patter singing skills. “Trip a Little Light Fantastic” is a showstopping production number that is heavily influenced by “Step in Time”, with Jack and the other lamplighters standing in for the chimney sweeps.

Marshall absolutely deserves credit for bringing all of this together, but Blunt really is the key to the film’s success. She is given the daunting task of taking over for Andrews, who won an Oscar for this very role, and she rises to the challenge every step of the way, delivering a stupendously good performance as the magical nanny. This is unmistakably the same character that Andrews portrayed, and yet Blunt still finds a way to make the role her own, which is nothing short of remarkable. Blunt brings a distinct sort of playfulness to her portrayal, hidden behind her prim and proper exterior, and it’s wonderful to watch what she does with the character.

The thing about Mary Poppins Returns is that it’s just such an enjoyable film, and I think pretty much everyone who goes to see it will come away with a smile on their face. From the songs to the production design, everything about it is simply delightful to watch, adding up to over two hours of pure Disney magic. So in other words, I loved it. And as for Emily Blunt as Mary Poppins, well, she is practically perfect in every way, of course!

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Ann permalink
    January 25, 2019 2:35 pm

    Thank you for the review of Mary Poppins Returns. I unfortunately did not make it to the theatre to watch it. Do you know when it will be out on DVD? You made me want to see it with your review. Thank you. Ann


    • January 25, 2019 9:59 pm

      Hi Ann, the exact release date hasn’t been confirmed yet, but it will be coming to DVD in March, likely around the middle of the month. Hope this helps, and hope you get a chance to watch it! 🙂


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