‘Mary Poppins Returns’ follows the same beats of its classic predecessor but that shouldn’t hinder different generations from being swept away by its pure joy and exhilaration.
There’s something enthralling about Mary Poppins: a charismatic, no-nonsense nanny who has her unique way of managing daily errands through magic and musical numbers. When viewed through a cynical lens, she’s not exactly a perfect role model. She can be too self-righteous and a pathological liar; she conjures these magical illusions only to dismiss them as silly imagination. However it may ultimately weigh on you, the genius of the character is that her mystery and complexity throws you off just enough to leave a lasting impression.
Now Mary Poppins Returns, the sequel to the timeless classic, may arrive 54 years late in the game, but it succeeds in reintroducing the titular British nanny to a new generation. True to its core, the film uses the same technique that Disney employed in its Star Wars franchise—by injecting a spoonful of nostalgia all throughout.
Aptly set in a Depression-era London, the two siblings from the first film—Michael (Ben Wishaw) and Jane Banks (Emily Mortimer)—have now grown up as adults. Michael is a widowed struggling artist/part-time bank teller, while Jane is a labor activist who does her best to help him from having their house repossessed by the bank. Amid the crisis, Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt), having not aged at all, once again descends from the clouds to shake things up in their current state of household. Now it’s the siblings turn to worry about their adult problems while Mary takes Michael’s kids onto marvelous (read: imaginary) adventures, and somehow figure how to resolve the main conflict at the end of the day.
There’s an emotional hook in the story best expressed in Michael’s soliloquy, “A Conversation,” and Mary’s heartfelt ballad, “The Place Where Lost Things Go,” but for the most part, this film takes cues from its predecessor by spinning a potentially gloomy story into something light and even jovial. One production number that easily stands out is the music hall performance of “A Cover is Not a Book” which blends live action and 2D animation, and highlights Sandy Powell’s commendable hand-painted costume designs. It’s a great callback to the first film’s “Jolly Holiday” where Mary and the crew jumped inside a chalk painting.
Then there’s a beautifully executed undersea voyage — with giant bubbles, twirling dolphins and all in “Can You Imagine That.” This will probably influence the children who have seen it to stay in the bath a little longer. Also, it is in that sequence where Blunt first sang and solidified her spot as Mary Poppins. She confidently carries a tune and delicately balances the character’s charm and arrogance. The actress’ screen presence is a delight to watch.
Nonetheless, the character that brought the most sunshine here has to be the cockney lamplighter Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda). He leads the arguably best musical number of the film, “Trip a Little Light Fantastic,” along with his stunt-performing army of lamplighters. At this point, the film goes crazy with its complex choreography and excessive levels of euphoria (and I’m not complaining at all). The music composed by Marc Shaiman, along with co-lyricist Scott Wittman, is a transformative experience that makes you feel like a child all over again.
Perhaps the biggest downside to this film is that the narrative takes a back seat in favor of the flamboyant and bombastic musical numbers. The younger demographic may not be bothered by this, but for those who are yearning for more gravitas to the plot, a more nefarious villain, or in general, if you’re just a grumpy adult who easily gets exasperated by all the dazzle and noise, then this is not your cup of tea. Designed more as a family movie, this is best enjoyed with kids. Director Rob Marshall honors the classic in the best way he can, however too reverent it may seem.
Mary Poppins Returns does not just stop at evoking a sense of wonder but it does try to change your perspective after some pondering. Mary Poppins’ greatest lesson teaches us to let go of the bad things that are not in our control, look into the bright side and let our imagination run free. It resonates more so than ever, especially in this digital era where today’s generation can learn a thing or two about sparking their imagination without the use of any tech gizmos. That is something we often take for granted these days. Let loose and before you know it, you’re singing along to the chorus of “Nowhere to Go But Up.” Uplift you, this film most likely will.
4 out of 5 stars