Mary Poppins Returns, the sequel to the 1964 Disney classic that starred Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke, is more than a worthy follow up. It’s joyful, uplifting and features an Oscar-worthy performance from Emily Blunt.
The story is set in 1935, 25 years later than the original, and the Banks children, Michael (Ben Whishaw) and Jane (Emily Mortimer), are now grown. Michael, who lives in the family house, is an artist and widowed father of three kids, Annabel (Pixie Davies), John (Nathanael Saleh) and Georgie (Joel Dawson). Jane, who’s been a major help since the death of his wife, is single and for for a woman of her time, pretty progressive.
It’s the depression and like everyone else, Michael is having money issues. Who’s got the cash to buy paintings? The bank, led by the weasel-in-disguise, William “Weatherall” Wilkins (Colin Firth) is about to foreclose if he’s not able to come up with the money for the back payments on the mortgage.
And then, like magic, Mary Poppins (Blunt) floats in on her umbrella to save the day.
With the help of a lamplighter, Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda), the two take the youngsters on a wild and fantastical ride; plunging into a bathtub to an undersea world, jumping into the side of a vase into a circus and more. And each setting is better then the next.
The cast is terrific. Whishaw, Mortimer and the children make you feel like they are straight out of the original. And in this day and age, who could take over for Van Dyke except for Lin-Manuel Miranda? He easily transfers his theatre wit and grace to the big screen. And even better, you can see that sparkle in his eyes whole time.
But, this is Blunt’s movie and she’s as perfect and charming and, yeah, bitchy, as you could hope. She expertly takes the reins from Andrews while making the role her own. You can just tell that both she and Miranda are having a blast. And why shouldn’t they?
And let’s not forget the surprise appearance of Van Dyke. He can still light up the screen and dance better than anyone at his age.
Although the music, by Marc Shaiman, with song lyrics written by Scott Wittman, isn’t as iconic as the original – how could it be? – there are still some songs that you’ll go out of the theater humming particularly the opening number, ‘(Underneath the) Lovely London Sky’, Van Dyke singing ‘Trip a Little Light Fantastic’ and ‘Nowhere to Go But Up’ with Angela Lansbury.
There was one odd choice though, in one scene have Miranda’s gang of lamplighters are riding bikes and doing BMX style tricks. It’s just an odd thing to see and have in a movie that it’s not meant to be current. And it actually takes you out of the moment for a bit.
After directing movie musicals like Chicago and Into the Woods and now this, Rob Marshall proves that he should be given carte blanche to tackle any musical he wants.