Mary Poppins Returns (Rob Marshall, 2018) 2½ out of 4 stars.
Rob Marshall, Academy Award nominee and director of Chicago, takes audiences back to Disney’s enchanting and atmospheric envision of London, England, in Mary Poppins Returns. Two decades after Mary Poppins floated down into the lives of the Banks family with nothing more than an umbrella, the children of the now grown-up Michael Banks meet the magical nanny at the lowest point of their father’s life. Michael Banks and his sister Jane are perplexed as to why Mary Poppins would come back at a time like now when London is in the middle of high poverty and Michael and his children are about to lose the family house to the bank. Whatever the reason, you never know what the day may hold in store for you when Mary Poppins floats into town.
Mary Poppins Returns is an incredibly heartfelt musical extravaganza that wisely chooses the right iconography and elements of the original Mary Poppins film to create the satisfying sequel fans have been longing for for 54 years. Sequels that are past due regularly feel off to the audience in more ways than one. The sheer power of human creativity and drive is magnificent when channeled into a particular art project like a film. However, the power of this magnitude isn’t free from the degradation of time and ailing interest. Steven Spielberg tried to bring back the magic of the Indiana Jones franchise in 2008 with Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull but failed to successfully marry the grime and grit of 1980s action cinema with the overly polished and soulless veneer of computer-effects technology.
Rob Marshall, and in large part Disney Studios, have turned Mary Poppins Returns into a not-so-subtle remake of the original. All the familiar characters and story beats are here. Burt the Chimney Sweep is back as Lin Manuel Miranda’s Jack the Lamplighter, Ben Whishaw’s Michael Banks works at the same bank from the first film, and Mary Poppins and other characters share a whimsical experience in a 2D animated wonderland. Emily Blunt is pitch perfect as the woman who is practically perfect in every way. She pays excellent tribute to Julie Andrews’ masterful characterization of the character and avoids the temptations to slip into a pale imitation. Blunt is a natural musical talent and carries her own when working in step and rhyme with Hamilton’s Lin Manuel Miranda. Blunt’s Mary Poppins is, well, more blunt this time around. She is never devoid of excitement or joy, especially when she participates in several spell-binding musical numbers, but she certainly exudes an appropriate sternness one would associate with a seasoned nanny.
There’s nothing in Mary Poppins Returns that suggests we’ll experience a new story that was crafted and restructured for decades by the brilliant minds of Disney. The primary intent of this film is to spark new interest in the Mary Poppins franchise for a new generation of children while serving as an unabashed nostalgia trip for their parents. The musical score composed by Marc Shaiman, the songs written by Scott Wittman, and the choreography crafted by Marshall and John DeLuca perfectly mirror a number of the classic songs and dance sequences from the original Mary Poppins like “Step in Time” and “A Spoonful of Sugar,” while retaining a respectable amount of originality.
Mary Poppins Returns is the perfect fluffy treat of the holiday season to warm your gooey center. Rob Marshall has paid tribute to the somber atmosphere of the original film to a fault. He offers little surprises and new directions to warrant the film’s existence, but he and Disney have indeed created a well-produced trip down memory lane. Emily Blunt has landed the role of a lifetime, and her Mary Poppins will most assuredly connect with children all around the world and teach them valuable lessons that they will take to heart.