Mary Poppins Returns Review: An earnest successor to a timeless classic
The film may not be as iconic as the Julie Andrews starrer, but it will certainly go down in cinematic history as a worthy attempt at a successor
Fifty-four years ago, PL Travers’ book series, Mary Poppins, was adapted into an iconic Walt Disney production. To this day, it remains one of the most celebrated musicals to come out of Hollywood. The film, as it turned out, had many firsts. It marked the feature film debut of the legendary Julie Andrews. It went on to receive a whopping 13 nominations at the Academy Awards the following year (a record for a Disney release), winning five. If that wasn’t enough, it was the only Disney film to be nominated for Best Picture in the man’s lifetime. So, it stands to reason that living up to all the hype that the 1964 original created was never going to be an easy task. And waiting more than half a century for the follow-up meant the makers had their work cut out. Much like its famed predecessor, Mary Poppins Returns, basks in some cinematic history of its own, being part of one of the longest gaps between sequels in Hollywood.
Director: Rob Marshall
Cast: Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ben Whishaw, Emily Mortimer
As for the film itself, it does pay worthy tribute to the original, but not without some flaws. The highest point of Mary Poppins Returns has to be the music and songs, with each set of (mostly) rhyming lyrics capturing the essence of all that the tale stands for. The resultant dance sequences that accompany the beloved nanny and her entourage as she eggs everyone to break into spontaneous song, are impressive as well. While the plot is rather sweet and touching, it is those scenes that enter into the fantasy world (seemingly outside of the main story) that steal some thunder away from the sequel. So long as the singing, dancing, and floating in mid-air sticks to London of the 1930s, all is well.
Emily Blunt enters the fray via the clouds on a truant kite being flown by Michael Banks’ youngest son. Set twenty-five years after the events of Part 1, Michael is all grown up now, and has three kids of his own – Annabel, John, and Georgie. The three children are about the same age as Michael and Jane were when Mary Poppins made an appearance out of thin air into their troubled childhood. Michael holds a job in the very same bank his father was once a partner, and his sister, Jane, is a dedicated and enthusiastic labour organiser. The Banks have just received some distressing news. Due to the great depression, they may lose their family home owing to the non-payment of a loan. Mary Poppins arrives, rather unexpectedly, but these are desperate times, after all. Within minutes of her grand entrance, the new kids of the house are floored by her charming wit, her take-charge attitude, and her endless bag of magic tricks.
Emily Blunt puts in a spirited performance, overall, with her sudden introduction to the current generation of Banks’ children being quite memorable. Michael, Jane, and loyal housekeeper, Ellen, are as shocked by Mary’s presence as they are by the prospect of the bank repossessing their home. Despite the situation, Mary goes about her business as if she were always there. Witty and bossy, yet equally endearing, Blunt fits into the role quite well, and gives us all a good laugh in the initial minutes. Lin-Manuel Miranda is another standout in his portrayal of Jack (a lamplighter who’s always on the periphery, ready to lend a helping hand as and when the need arises). The cameos, especially the one by good old Meryl Streep, as Mary Poppins’ kooky second cousin, Topsy (her real name is Tatiana Antanasia Cositori Topotrepolovsky), are worthy of a mention. By bringing back Dick Van Dyke (who plays Mr. Dawes Jr. in this one) and Karen Dotrice (who played the young Jane Banks in the original) for some precious snippets of screen space, the makers are sure to keep those avid fans happy.
The film does well, for the most part, but the disappointing instances include a stretched out running time (it could have easily been 15 or 20 minutes shorter) and the exploration of the parallel fantasy world more than required. The sequel may perhaps not be as iconic as the Julie Andrews-starrer, but all things considered, Mary Poppins Returns will certainly go down in cinematic history as a worthy successor to a timeless classic.