Movie Review: Mary Poppins Returns
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Mary Poppins Returns
Director: Rob Marshall
Writers: David Magee
Cast: Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ben Whishaw, Emily Mortimer, Julie Walters, Dick Van Dyke, Angela Lansbury, Colin Firth, Meryl Streep
Studio: Walt Disney Studios
Rated PG | 129 Minutes
Release Date: December 19, 2018

The idea of continuing the story of Mary Poppins may seem absurd at first. After all, it has been 54 years since the original film, starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke, was released. And now, Disney has released a sequel,
Mary Poppins Returns. Of course, there are new younger stars to appear to take over some of the previous roles left behind by the cast of the first film. But that doesn’t mean much has changed. Emily Blunt carries on the spirit of the eponymous character, played originally by Andrews, and makes it her own. Additionally, Lin-Manuel Miranda is a pure joy to watch as his eyes light up with child-like wonder when Poppins returns.

But as with all films, there are a few flaws. And with this, the sequel seems to want to go on and on, adding one filler moment after another. Luckily, the songs are just charming and sweet enough to help one look past some of those issues. Although, those can be a bit lengthy as well. Still, it’s not enough of a problem to impede the enjoyment of this heartwarming sequel that we need during these times.

Mary Poppins Returns takes place some 25 years after the original. Set in 1935, in Great Britain during the Great Depression, Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw) is now a widowed father of three children (Pixie Davies, Nathanael Saleh, and Joel Dawson). And he’s unable to pay back his loans from the very bank that Michael works for – which is owned by the devious William “Weatherall” Wilkins (Colin Firth). However, that’s when Mary Poppins (Emily BLunt) returns to help the Banks family in their desperate time of need. Joined by Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda) and her eccentric cousin Topsy (Meryl Streep), Mary Poppins will help bring back the light during the dark times while making everything a colorful and joyous adventure for the kids.

There’s no doubt that the spirit and wisdom of Mary Poppins resonate with many of us. The English nanny bestows sagacious advice with hints of snark and sarcasm. Andrews’ left behind a legacy for the character and she set the bar high for anyone who chose to take on the role in the future. Rather than try to impersonate or mimic the character’s mannerisms and wit, Blunt made Mary Poppins her own. In doing so, we get a new perspective on the character while also believing that she is still one and the same. Blunt’s take on the character is every bit as charming and warm as Andrews’ take.

Of course, there was some trepidation when it comes to the role. Again, a lot of that has to do with Andrews and what she did to mark Poppins continue to resonate to this day. The vicious and snappy retorts are still there whenever the children try to outwit her. There’s also that skepticism of whether or not Mary Poppins is as magical as the kids certainly make her out to be. Certainly, they can see it, but the much older Banks children are not as sure. But we all know the truth.

That wide-eyed child sense of belief lives on in Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda), a lamp-lighting leery who used to work for Bert in the first Mary Poppins. Miranda brings his own brand of deliciously charming swagger to the screen as he sings, spits lyrics, and dances from one end of the screen to the other. He was clearly born to play this role. Jack’s hopeful and child-like demeanor mirrors that of Miranda’s personality. That sense of optimism and hope he has in an adult reminds us that it is okay to be kids at an older age. And he says it with an irresistible smile on his face.

That clearly is brought to life in the practically (almost) perfect music. In one, the two take the kids to a traditionally hand-drawn animated world where they sing and dance with animated penguins and other sorts of animals. The two are clearly in their element as they (in lavender and pink tuxedo suits and bowler hats) put on a performance of “The Royal Doulton Music Hall” that is full of uplifting energy and joy. Blunt’s “The Place Where Lost Things Go” reminds us that nothing is truly forgotten, just out of place. It’s not as spirited or fun like a “Spoonful Of Sugar,” but a touching reminder of how to keep the cherished memories alive.

And Miranda gets his own chance to shine in “Trip A Little Light Fantastic,” a metaphorical bit about lighting the way through the darkness. The song leans more towards “Chim Chimney” as it is a brief interlude to allow for a big musical dance number. One that feels more contemporary than it should as bicyclists perform acrobatic stunts by going up ramps. It’s not necessarily odd, just a bit out of place.

While Marc Shaiman and Scott Whittman‘s music is celebratory and the Blunt and Miranda’s performances are definitely worth praising, the film could have trimmed some of the fatty filler. There is one very predictable moment that could have easily ended the film had anyone been looking. Additionally, the sequel is putting in things that just extend the film with a vertigo-inducing sequence that takes Mary, Jack, and the Banks children to Topsy’s (Meryl Streep) shop. There, everything gets turned upside down on a second Wednesday and they have to go through a whole process of looking at things from a different perspective that it doesn’t really do anything for the kids.

It is something that just prolongs the film and the song doesn’t match the same energy or have as much meaning as any of the other ones. Although, the production design for that sequence does deserve some credit. In fact, the film forces Jack and Jane Banks (Emily Mortimer) into a relationship. But it has no place in the film or doesn’t do anything to advance the story. Essentially, it is just filler.

Still, Mary Poppins Returns is a nice and sweet remembrance to the 1964 classic film that reminded us about what it was like to be a child. The sequel honors the original with terrific performances from Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda, and adds in a few obligatory throwbacks like music and songs referencing the original, and, of course, traditionally hand-drawn animation. And despite some of its flaws, Mary Poppins Returns warms the heart with joy and child-like wonder, which is something we need in these trying times.

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