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Mary Poppins Returns - Review

Mary Poppins Returns

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 3.5 out of 5

THE power of Mary Poppins to bring some hope should never be under-estimated. Arriving at the end of a year in which Brexit dominated the British headlines and Trump stole the global ones [both to negative, divisive effect], Disney’s decision to revive the character for a belated sequel couldn’t have come along at a better time to offer cinema-goers some much needed escapist cheer.

But while undoubtedly welcome, the question of whether the follow-up could actually work lingered large, especially for those who continue to hold Robert Stevenson’s 1964 original in such high reverence.

The answer to that is, yes, it can. The magic remains, thanks largely to the eponymous nanny herself, or in this movie’s case, Emily Blunt. Stepping into the shoes of Julie Andrews was no easy task, but Blunt does the job with effortless aplomb.

She imbues the character with a practically perfect mix of sternness, compassion, humour and fun, tipping her hat – at times – to the old Andrews magic, while making the role resolutely her own. She illuminates the screen and Mary Poppins Returns is at its very best whenever she is around.

Of note, too, is Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, as Jack, the lovable lamplighter, who occupies the Dick Van Dyke everyman role from the first film. A natural singer and dancer, he invests the film with his own kind of magic and contributes to some of its most memorable musical moments.

That’s not to say everything works. The film could be accused of trying too hard at times (cameos from Meryl Streep and Angela Lansbury are superfluous), becoming lazy at others (some of the plot points echo the original film a little too closely, and therefore succumb to sequel-itis) and just not working with some creative choices.

Ben Whishaw’s grieving dad, aka the grown up Michael from the original, feels mis-cast, largely because he looks a little too young to be a father of three but also because he doesn’t always convince on an emotional level (a rare criticism of an otherwise fine actor), while Colin Firth’s villain isn’t afforded enough time to be truly villainous in any sense of the word. His presence actually begs the question of whether the film itself needed a villain at all.

Mary Poppins Returns

But in the main, this is a joyous experience and one that makes for really good family entertainment.

The plot is simple. Picking up in 1930s London, at a time of economic hardship, the story finds the Banks children, Jane and Michael (Emily Mortimer and Whishaw), faced with the repossession of their family home at a time when Michael is still coming to terms with the death of his wife and struggling to raise their three kids, Annabel (Pixie Davies), John (Nathaniel Saleh) and Georgie (Joel Dawson).

Enter Mary Poppins, attached to a discarded kite, who wastes no time in healing the wounds and laying the foundations for the turnaround in fortunes that inevitably follow.

Rob Marshall, whose previous musical credits include Chicago and Into The Woods, is obviously no stranger to lavish big screen musicals, and here delivers the same level of spectacle and grandeur. Several of the songs genuinely thrill, with The Royal Doulton Music Hall and Trip a Little Light Fantastic two of the best.

Marshall also finds a nice mix between the humour and the melancholy, tapping into a nicely bittersweet vibe at times that can tug at the tear ducts. Blunt, for her part, is especially good at hitting the right emotional notes and carrying the audience with her.

At times, however, his background in adapting stage musicals for the big screen also gives the film a ‘stagey’ feel of its own, with several of the early set-up scenes feeling that way.

But at a time when the world as a whole feels in need of a pick-me-up, or some magic of its own, his Mary Poppins Returns frequently succeeds in putting a smile on your face, which offers a special kind of magic of its own. It’s a flight of musical fantasy that’s tailor-made for bringing families together and losing themselves in the moment.

Certificate: U
Running time: 2hrs 10mins
UK Release Date: December 21, 2018