Unlike the Dark Knight, Mary Poppins Returns, not as an avenging angel of justice, but as that cut glass accented typically upper middle class nanny so iconically played by Julie Andrews, a role for which she is forever associated. 54 years after the original we now have a sequel and for both the studio, and especially Emily Blunt who takes over the role, they are big shoes to fill.
Mary Poppins Returns picks up decades later with Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw) and his sister Jane (Emily Mortimer) now grown up but Michael recently widowed and struggling to raise his three young children and though he’s a frustrated artist he takes a low paying job at a bank and somehow manages to afford a housekeeper played by Julie Walters.
But the scene is set from the start with a chirpy cockney lamp lighter (Lin – Manuel Miranda) tootling around London on his bike singing about the lovely sky where the film’s editor subversively cuts to a skyline with a factory belching thick smoke. Mercifully Miranda’s cockney accent, whilst still a little bit cock-er-nee, is better than Dick van Dyke’s infamously indeterminate vowel mangling accent in the first film.
It’s only when lawyers from the bank visit Michael and serve notice of repossession on his home inherited from his late father that the music stops. He is given just five days to pay all the outstanding money he owes the bank having overlooked his repayments when having to cope with the grief of losing his wife and mother to his children. What they need is a nanny with magical powers and so it is that Mary Poppins Returns descending from the sky clinging onto the tail of a kite in a storm like a cut price messianic deity with an umbrella. Emily Blunt is pitch perfect in the role and right from her first lines it’s like Mary Poppins has never been away. And that is part of the beauty of the film because for a film that so many generations have grown up with its immensely comforting hearing the no nonsense English nanny get the house in order and the film subtly plays on that nostalgia for the comfort of being a child with loving parents that will have some suppressing tearful emotions.
Mary Poppins has the thinnest of scripts centring around the search for a shares certificate that will save his house from being repossessed but this plays a very much secondary fiddle to the song and dance set pieces. Right from the start the children quickly warm to their nanny with her carpet bag of tricks starting with a bath time that turns into a water park type set piece where you half expect Aquaman to pop up. For kids it’s the dream nanny making that most hated of experiences, bath time, enjoyable to such a degree that the youngest child wants a bath all the time.
Much like the original the sequel mixes live action with animated sequences which are in the 1960’s style of Disney animation where the studio was leaving behind the smooth lines of the classic Dumbo, Snow White and Pinocchio for a more scratchy lined edging as seen in their later films The Jungle Book and especially Robin Hood and this sequel rightly stays with the 1964 original films style rather than feeling it necessary to upgrade for a modern audience.
It’s not perfect with, as is so often the case with most modern musicals, no songs anywhere near as memorable as those from the original with many of them being forgotten even as they are sung. Equally there’s a song and dance number with Meryl Streep, sporting an accent that vies with Dick van Dyke as being memorable for all the wrong reasons, which could easily have been excised without the film losing anything. It’s only a throwaway joke where someone comments to Streep, ‘That’s an unusual accent!’ presumably as an in-joke about Dick Van Dyke that the scene seems to have been kept. It’s Dyke too who does finally appear making the customary cameo and at 83 years of age he does do a little song and dance routine though and seems to consist of little more of him trying to put one foot in front of the other. His appearance prompts one of the cast to ask, ‘What are you doing here?’ whereas what many will want to know is, ‘Where’s Julie Andrews?’ because of all people who you might expect a cameo from it is her but perhaps a cameo by her would be so glaring that it would detract from Blunt’s performance.
Mary Poppins Returns is a big gamble for all parties involved but its pays off with director (and also choreographer) Rob Marshall helming the project and it would be hard to better what he’s done here having proved himself with previous musicals, ‘Into the Woods’ & ‘Chicago’. With the film already nominated for Golden Globes it seems certain that Oscar nominations will follow and Mary Poppins Returns is the perfect Christmas movie.
Watch the Mary Poppins Returns trailer here…..