Film Review: Mary Poppins Returns

It’s been no less than 52 years since the family classic Mary Poppins, and this long-long-time-coming direct sequel does captures some of the original’s old-school magic.

After half a century in ‘Development Hell’, this finally got off the ground with musical-friendly producer/director Rob Marshall (Chicago, Nine, Into The Woods) at the helm, and Emily Blunt taking over for Julie Andrews as the ageless Poppins.

But no matter: Emily is fine as a Mary Poppins who can sing, dance, act and crack a surprising dirty joke or two.

During ‘The Great Slump’ we find the Banks children have matured into worried and melancholy adults. Michael (Ben Whishaw) is grieving over the death of his wife a year previously (a dark bit of plotting for a would-be-uplifting tale) and concerned about his sad young children John (Nathanael Saleh), Anabel (Pixie Davies) and little Georgie (Joel Dawson). Grown-up Jane Banks (Emily Mortimer) is also around to agonise lightly, and she’s present when nasty chaps from the bank turn up to announce that the family is set to lose their house on Cherry Tree Lane.

Yes, Michael might well be working for bad banker boss William Weatherall Wilkins (Colin Firth from those Mamma Mia! movies) and have crushed his childhood dreams to do so, but he’s just not earning enough cash. What will happen to them all – and, indeed, devoted old housekeeper Ellen (Julie Walters, another Mamma Mia! veteran)? Friendly neighbourhood lamplighter Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda) looks on with much concern, knocks off a song or two, and is very obviously a proxy for Dick Van Dyke’s chimney sweep Bert from the original film, although Miranda’s Cockney accent is far less horrendous.

Luckily Mary Poppins returns via a kite and that trademark umbrella to set everything right, and the new songs come thick and fast once she turns up. There’s Can You Imagine That?, where she takes the kids on a trip to an FX wonderland by way of the humble bath; an extended sequence emulating the hand-drawn animation style of the first film that culminates in Blunt and Miranda’s vaudeville-like A Cover Is Not The Book; and a long number featuring Miranda and many others elaborately performing Trip A Little Light Fantastic, which is obviously trying to evoke fond memories of the beloved Chim Chim Cher-ee from back in 1964.

These tunes are all pleasant but are they quite as fabulous as A Spoonful Of Sugar and (deep breath) Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious? Will kids 50+ years from now be humming them? Well, probably not, but they’re suitably sweet nevertheless.

With a silly bit for Meryl Streep (the third Mamma Mia! alumnus) as Mary’s gravity-challenged cousin Topsy, a fair whack of icky sentiment and a certain forced niceness, this indubitably has its problems, but Blunt more than compensates for them. Apparently she recently stated in an interview, “No one can out-Julie-Andrews Julie Andrews” – but she almost does anyway. Almost.

Mary Poppins Returns (G) is in cinemas January 1

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