By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)
Fifty-four years after Mary Poppins debuted in theaters and began winning of the hearts of children and their families for many generations, the magical nanny has finally returned in a sequel. Why Disney took so long to do this is uncertain. However, considering that that the studio’s current production plans mostly involve live action/CGI remakes of their animated classics, it is somewhat refreshing that the “House of the Mouse” would choose to revisit a classic character in a different way. Though not as wonderful as its predecessor, Mary Poppins Returns does have some magic of its own. With some show-stopping musical numbers and a fantastic performance by Emily Blunt in the lead role, this sequel is serviceable at worst, but enjoyable and delightful at best.Twenty years after the events of the first movie, Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw) still lives in his childhood home, but has recently struggled to maintain possession of it. The now widowed father of three takes out a loan from his late father’s bank to cover the medical and burial expenses incurred when his wife falls ill and passes away. A struggling artist/bank teller, Michael has only a few days before the bank takes the house from him, his daughter Anabel (Pixie Davies) and his sons John (Nathanael Saleh) and Georgie (Joel Dawson). While the beleaguered father and his sister Jane (Emily Mortimer) struggle to save their home, an old friend pays them a surprising visit just time to lend a helpful hand.
Movie musical extraordinaire Rob Marshall (Chicago, Into the Woods) directs with a screenplay he co-wrote with David Magee and John DeLuca, based on the characters created by P.L. Travers. And even though Marshall and his crew do an outstanding job of creating this magical world and some wonderful musical set pieces, the story just doesn’t quite have the same level of magic and wonder that the first installment has. Adults can appreciate the troubles that Michael Banks faces and his financial woe remains a relevant issue to many people in modern times. However, the gravity of his situation often gets buried by elaborate fantasy sequences and musical numbers that take over the film.
I suppose a certain level of this escapism is to be expected, but I feel that the writers didn’t give the issue the necessary gravity it really needs. In addition, some silly plot holes will certainly insult the intelligence of some of the grown-ups. I know this will matter very little to the young children watching the film. After all, Mary Poppins is all about enjoying the magical moments and not focusing on the plausibility of things.
And there is much to enjoy about the songs, the choreography and fantasy that this movie has to offer. I often found myself quietly humming or singing along with some of the songs in the film. Marc Shaiman, who wrote both the lyrics and score for the film, proves himself to be a solid choice. Though not all of the numbers and songs are extraordinary, the film does have a handful of memorable and lovable ones.
The entire cast delivesr great work as actors, putting much heart into their roles and the material. Hamilton creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda shines brightly in his role as Jack, a sweet and charming cockney lamplighter whose heart belongs to Jane Banks who is portrayed by Emily Mortimer. Mortimer brings much cheery joy to her character, but is not given very much to do in the film. Ben Whishaw, who portrays her brother Michael, has a much larger role. Whishaw imbues his character with genuine heartbreak, stress, but a tremendous amount of love for his children.
As for the lead role of Mary Poppins, Emily Blunt has some large shoes to fill, and though it isn’t an absolutely perfect fit, the talented actress comes pretty damn close. First of all, Blunt absolutely shines when she acts in the speaking parts, superbly embodying the character with her stern demeanor, her rapier wit, and persuasive confidence. When it comes to singing, Blunt has a wonderful voice, but doesn’t quite have the strength of Julie Andrews. Still, after watching Blunt take charge of this character, I cannot see anyone else take on this part.
I suppose it is to be expected that it is virtually impossible to match or even top the level of classical magic that the original Mary Poppins has to offer. The movie maintains the saccharine innocence of the 1950s, even though it was released during a decade of major changes. In the year 2018, it has to be difficult to perfectly duplicate that mindset/spirit, but these modern filmmakers come close. They obviously have much love for the characters and that world, and I think this love will be enough to allow Mary Poppins fans to enjoy themselves. As with most good (but not great) sequels, it is very fun to return, but I wouldn’t expect it to have the same exact impact.