Photos | Jay Maidment, Disney Enterprises, Inc. / Yorgos Lanthimos, Fox Searchlight
From left: Decades after her original visit Mary Poppins, the magical nanny, returns to help the Banks siblings and Michael’s children through a difficult time in their lives. “The Favourite” travels to 18th century England, where a frail Queen Anne occupies the throne and her close friend, Lady Sarah, governs the country in her stead. When a new servant, Abigail, arrives, her charm endears her to Sarah.
Mary Poppins Returns” is only recommended for people who like singing and dancing and stunning costumes; you cannot ask for more than this film, a traditional family musical, gives you. Emily Blunt has been passed Mary Poppins’ parrot umbrella, and she has risen to the occasion. Her slightly snooty, crisply impeccable version is, if anything, closer to the spirit of author P.L. Travers’ character as written, while the entire film is beautifully made in the spirit of the rightly beloved, Oscar-nominated 1964 classic.
In “Mary Poppins Returns,” well, she returns, to help the Banks children as adults and take care of their children. Accordingly, people who love the original are watching with their kids and grandkids, and this film takes every opportunity to revel in that dynamic.
Will you thrill when nextdoor neighbor Admiral Boom fires his cannon from the roof? You will. Will you freak out when national treasure Dick Van Dyke shows up, only to be followed one scene later by Angela Lansbury? Unquestionably. Do people fly through the air holding balloons? They sure do. If that’s sounds good to you, you will love “Mary Poppins Returns.”
Unabashedly sentimental and emotional, the audience will begin to quietly weep when poor Michael Banks (the delightful Ben Whishaw), now a grown widower and father of three moppets, sings a sweet little song in the attic among his late wife’s things. Soon, however, Emily Blunt strides right out of the sky in the first of a series of truly divine shoes.
This film follows the pattern of the original one rather closely. Instead of singing “A Spoonful of Sugar” while tidying the nursery, Mary Poppins sings a song called “Can You Imagine That?” while giving the kids a bath in a magical underwater adventure.
A particular highlight of both films is when the characters enter an animated realm. Instead of a chalk drawing, this time they enter a painted Royal Doulton bowl and transform into eye-poppingly fabulous costumes with trompe l’oeil ruffles, polka dots and stripes painted on them, from which I have yet to, and possibly never will, recover.
As their marvelous footwear audibly clanks across the ceramic ground, they enjoy a performance by Mary Poppins and friendly lamplighter Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda) that is, from a choreography standpoint at least, as fabulous as “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.” Is it as memorable as the hard-to-spell original? We don’t know yet. We haven’t heard these new songs a million times yet, as we have the old ones.
This film is not (yet) a classic because it wasn’t made in 1965 and the people reviewing it didn’t see it as children. I suppose you might complain of the very concept of any kind of sequel being made, but, having made one, this one is almost flawless. Miranda is so electrifying in his “Royal Doulton Music Hall” number “A Cover is Not the Book” that I had to restrain myself from applauding. And that brings us to this film’s version of “Step in Time,” a huge song that starts under London rather than over the rooftops, called “Trip a Little Light Fantastic.” It is indeed fantastic.
There’s no way to please everyone with such an undertaking; if you’re too faithful to the original, you are not original. If you veer wildly off from the original, you’re sacrilegious to a classic. “Mary Poppins Returns” definitely walks the faithful path and does so, as I have previously emphasized, in exceedingly divine footwear.
Judged as an original musical, this film has fantastic staging and choreography and top-of-the-line performances. Blunt’s Mary Poppins is strong and beautiful and very funny. Your gut reaction to it is based on your own individual emotional alchemy, composed of memories, expectations and experiences, but I found it to be a delightful, memorable event with music and dancing that was practically perfect.
“Mary Poppins Returns” is currently playing at all listed multiplex theaters.