Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) returns to take care of the Banks children who have grown up and are struggling to get on in life. Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw) is recently widowed, has three young children and is faced with eviction from his home. Poppins, with the help of cockney lamplighter Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda) distracts the children from the stresses of their lives, and shows them the magic all around them. Whilst she’s at it, she may just save Mr Banks as well.
The most extraordinary aspect of Mary Poppins Returns is it’s sense of wonder. The magic that made the original a classic is ever present here. The musical numbers are bright, playful and inventive. The film uses CG and classical animation to stunning effect. There’s a great feeling of joy when the film enters one of it’s set pieces. If the film becomes very sentimental in it’s final act, it could hardly be said to be at odds with the spirit of the rest of film, nor indeed that of it’s predecessor.
This is bolstered by a fairly impeccable cast. Emily Blunt is immaculate as the iconic nanny. She is stern but playful and loving, just as you remember her. Sometimes her responses feel a little more rigid than Andrew’s version, as if she is limited to only a handful of responses to any given situation, but it is afterall a fabulous piece of mimicry with little invention of it’s own. Though it is nice to see a slightly bawdier side to the character in “a cover is not a book”.
Elsewhere, Lin-Manuel Miranda is effortlessly charming as the Dick Van Dyke stand in of the film (Dick Van Dyke himself has an utterly charming cameo late in the film). His skills as a singer and dancer are particularly thrilling in “Trip a Little Light Fantastic” sequence. Ben Whishaw is reliably sympathetic as the long suffering father of the family, who is also afforded some very touching musical moments. There’s also plenty of very capable character actors to fill the streets of this whimsical London, recalling Paddington.
It was a very brave and correct choice to not lean to heavily on the iconic soundtrack of the original film. There’s a definite musical style that references the original classic but with an identity entirely of it’s own. The songs are wonderfully written with moving lyrics and catchy melodies.
It does however stick to the plot points of the original film, making the whole thing a little predictable. Considering how adventurous the individual sections are, the narrative whole feels somewhat lacking. There is also an issue in the editing of the ambitious set pieces. Far too often a very impressive dance sequence is overly edited, detracting from it’s impact.
Mary Poppins Returns may not be practically perfect in every way, but it is a very much needed spoonful of sugar that reminds you of just how wonderful cinema can be when it’s determined to make you smile. A wonderful cast, colourful production and enchanting songs make this film an absolute delight.