In an era of cheap recycling, Mary Poppins Returns succeeds in feeling relevant despite its familiar personality.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Oh, how I’ve longed for a movie like this. This rare treat that can at once transport me back to the freefalls of childhood, make me smile with its innovation and cry with its tenderness. Mary Poppins Returns is truly an unexpected delight, and “delight” is the right word because, like the first film with Julie Andrews, it is filled with characters who are destined to find wonder and happiness amidst the deepest of woes. How uplifting is that?
It is made even more bewitching by the towering presence of Emily Blunt, who possesses a face and bearing so utterly perfect for Mary Poppins that she almost takes on a kind of droll divinity. She assumes Poppins with whimsy and sternness, but never seems off balance. I have always admired Blunt, now I am enamoured.
In both movies, the role of Mary Poppins is to alleviate stress for the Banks family by whisking the children away on fantasy adventures while the adults fret about adult stuff and neglect the poor kids. But might she also subtly instruct the family on matters of the heart along the way? She is a nanny and a life guru rolled into one, carried by the elegance of an era.
In Mary Poppins Returns, she revisits the Bankses after their precious Cherry Tree Lane home is to be repossessed by the vile William Wilkins (Colin Firth). Michael (Ben Whishaw) and Jane (Emily Mortimer) have grown up, and Michael’s three children (Pixie Davies, Nathanael Saleh, Joel Dawson) worry for their family’s future. They are joined by Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda), a cheery lamplighter in the vein of Dick Van Dyke’s Bert, whose talents include dancing, rapping and riding a bicycle.
But it is the complete exuberance with which the movie rushes forward that makes all this familiar territory seem new. It is directed by Rob Marshall and composed by Marc Shaiman, both of whom have found great success with musicals. The soundtrack is rippled with memorable tunes and the dance numbers bristle with imagination, like the one that takes place inside a ceramic bowl of cartoon animals and culminates in a stunning cabaret duet. It is a movie that never loses the twinkle in its eye.
The first Mary Poppins was nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards; Julie Andrews took home Best Actress. The days are still young, but Blunt could achieve the same. She is splendid, as is the rest of the cast, the soundtrack and the sets, the costumes, the style, the imagery and the story. If the movies are meant to bring us to magical places, Mary Poppins Returns reminds us just how magical they can be. What a lovely experience this is.
Mary Poppins Returns is available in Australian cinemas from January 1
Image courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures