By: BabyRuth (Three Beers) –
Mary Poppins RETURNS!
It sounds a little like a threat, doesn’t it?
Emily Blunt steps into the iconic shoes of everyone’s favorite nanny (sorry Fran Drescher), this time around summoned back to London’s Cherry Tree Lane to check in on the Banks home. It’s 25 years after the events of the first film and the recently widowed Michael (Ben Whishaw) is in a bit of crisis. Since the death of his wife, Michael is left to care for his three young children. He’s facing some financial hardship as well, having fallen behind on his mortgage payments (his late wife took care of all that stuff- Men! Am I right ladies?) and now the bank, yes the same one where his father worked and he now does, is giving him only a few days to come up with the entire remaining balance of the loan or the family’s home will be repossessed. Michael’s sister Jane (Emily Mortimer) is temporarily staying with him to help, but unless they find a certificate of shares in the bank their father left them, they will never be able to come up with the money.
While looking through old boxes in the attic, they come across that old kite they flew all those years ago and having long dismissed all that supposed magic they experienced as children with their former nanny as nothing but pish posh, put it out in the trash. A gust of wind and poof! Mary, along with her bottomless carryall and talking umbrella, is back to help save the day in the way only she can.
While Michael and Jane work against the clock to figure out a way to save the house, Mary, accompanied by lamp lighter and Bert’s apprentice Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda) take the children on some whimsical adventures and even teach them some valuable life lessons.
This is one of those films that could have only gone one of two ways, and fortunately it is the good one. It’s one of those instances where all the right people came together in the best possible way. Rob Marshall knows a thing or two or nine about directing a musical, having brought the genre back to the mainstream with 2002’s Chicago (speaking of, Blunt dons a Velma Kelly wig at one point!), and he pays homage to the 1964 original with Returns, which has the look and feel of a production from that era, right down to the opening credits.
Emily Blunt as Mary Poppins is, forgive me, practically perfect in every way. She balances the fine line of being believable as the beloved character without falling into a Julie Andrews impression. She’s close enough to Andrews’ portrayal for the audience to buy that it is the same person but brings her own interpretation of the character. Every eye roll and sly smile is perfection, not to mention her gorgeous singing voice. Before seeing this film, it may have been hard to imagine anyone taking over the role, but now it’s impossible to imagine anyone but Blunt in this incarnation. She is one of, if not the, most versatile actresses working today. There are many reasons not to skip this film, and she is biggest one.
Lin-Manuel Miranda fares a little less well. His Jack always seems like Bert-lite right down to the questionable Cockney accent. But he’s a great entertainer and shines in the musical performances. (Hamilton fans will especially enjoy his verse in the film’s best song, “A Cover is Not a Book.”) And his obvious joy and enthusiasm in the role is written all over his face in every scene and is a delight to watch.
Ben Whishaw and Emily Mortimer are perfect as the adult Michael and Jane and the child actors (Pixie Davies, Nathanael Saleh, and Joel Dawson) are exceptionally good. The cast is rounded out with fun performances by Colin Firth at his mustache twirlingest, Julie Walters (as the Banks’ housekeeper Ellen), and a few more familiar faces in cameos.
Which brings us to the timeless Dick Van Dyke, who deserves a toast of his own. His part is small, and we have to wait for it, but when he shows up, well, if you haven’t cried at all yet (you likely will several times though) prepare for a few tears (there’s a few notes of a classic song from the original film just in case, and if your eyes remain dry, well I don’t want to know you). If that’s not enough, the 93 – 93! year old then proceeds to JUMP ON TOP OF A DESK AND DANCE. (In case you’re wondering, it has been confirmed that there were no dance doubles or camera tricks involved. I checked.) The film gets a little off track prior to Van Dyke’s appearance (more on that in a bit) but he brings it all back and is simply wonderful.
There’s another surprise cameo at the very end which was quite obviously intended for someone else (that someone else’s name rhymes with Truly Lamdrues, but if you want to see or rather, hear her, take a walk down the hall to the theater playing Aquaman instead.) Still, the substitute is a welcome treat, and another nonagenarian legend killing the game.
The musical numbers are beautifully staged and choreographed and while the songs may not be as memorable as the original film, they are catchy enough that viewers may find their feet tapping along. The showstopper sequence involves a trip into (or rather onto) a chipped china bowl that sends Mary, Jack, and the children on a jolly holiday into an animated world. Much like the excursion into the chalk world of the 1964 classic, the animation is hand-drawn (something Marshall reportedly fought hard for) and it is nothing short of stunning. Even the costumes are animated.
The sequel often feels more like a remake as Mary Poppins Returns follows nearly the exact same beats as its predecessor (someone on Twitter compared it to what The Force Awakens is to A New Hope – I wish I could take credit for this analogy because it’s so perfect). Each musical sequence is a mirrored homage to a similar one from the 1964 film. Whether or not a person is cool with that is the determining factor as to how much they will like this movie. Personally, I was fine with it, though at times, it is a little too obvious and borders on copycat. (Particularly Meryl Streep’s cameo as Cousin Topsy, which seems to go on a little too long and is nowhere near as fun as the visit to the laugh-loving Uncle Albert in the original film.)
Things get a little bonkers in the third act. We get a callback to the chimney-sweeps’ rousing “Step in Time” sequence with dozens of Jack’s lamplighter friends (how many lamplighters does one town need?) performing a number complete with pole-dancing and BMX choreography.
Which I was very happy to see because there just isn’t enough BMX choreography in movies these days.
Then the film takes a turn into action movie territory with a sequence that recalls this year’s Skyscraper with Jack hilariously scaling Big Ben to stop it from striking midnight to buy some extra time for the adult Banks siblings (which seems extremely unnecessary since Mary Poppins can fly).
Fans of the classic film will find much to like about Mary Poppins Returns. It’s heavy on the nostalgia, which isn’t a bad thing, especially during this holiday season. Thanks to inspired casting, wonderful performances, fun musical sequences, and beautiful visuals, this one is worth your tuppence (maybe a matinee, that way you’ll have enough left over to feed some birds.)
Mary Poppins Returns (2018) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: for every nod or callback to Mary Poppins (1964)
Take a Drink: whenever anyone says “bank” or “shares”
Take a Drink: whenever a light is put out
Take a Drink: whenever Lin-Manuel Miranda looks up at the sky with a knowing smile
Take a Drink: every time Mary Poppins denies that magic happened (Why do you lie Mary?!)
Take a Drink: whenever you get emotional (it’s okay!)
Do a Shot: BMX dancing!
Do a Shot: whenever the neighborhood cannon goes off
Raise your Glass: to the timeless Dick Van Dyke