“Mary Poppins Returns” is as delightful and exuberant as you can expect from a sequel to “Mary Poppins” (1964). Although it is often too familiar to surpass its beloved predecessor, the movie still has enough charm and spirit to engage us mainly thanks to the game efforts from its cast and crew, and I became less cranky about its several notable shortcomings when I watched it along with a friend at last night.
Set in London of the early 1930s, the movie takes us back to 17 Cherry Tree Lane after its solid opening musical number “(Underneath the) Lovely London Sky”, and we soon meet its current occupants. Since his dear wife died one year ago, Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw) has struggled a lot to raise his three kids alone, but, despite the help from his sister Jane (Emily Mortimer) and their loyal housekeeper Ellen (Julie Walters), things have recently gotten worse for him and his family, and then there comes a very bad news. Due to his unintentional delay in the monthly repayment of a substantial amount of loan he took from the bank where he has worked for years, the bank now demands that the loan should be wholly repaid within a few days, and his family house will be repossessed if he and Jane fail to find a certain certificate which can save their family from this grim financial situation.
Although Michael and Jane try to hide their urgent financial matter from his children as much as they can, it does not take much time for his children to see what is going on. As they subsequently worry about what may happen to them and their father, there comes a sudden strong wind, which signifies, yes, the imminent arrival of Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt). As soon as she encounters Michael’s children, Poppins swiftly heads to 17 Cherry Tree Lane along with them, and she certainly surprises Jane and Michael, who marvel at how their favorite nanny looks pretty much same as before although around 20 years have passed since they saw her for the last time.
Right from her first hour at 17 Cherry Tree Lane, Poppins excites and enthralls Michael’s children with a series of fantastic moments as singing “Can You Imagine That?”, and that is just the beginning of more fun and adventures for them. Along with a young, dashing lamplighter named Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda), who was once an apprentice of Dick Van Dyke’s character in the 1964 film, Poppins shows many other wondrous things to Michael’s children, and Micheal’s children become more joyous than before even though they are still well aware of their family’s desperate financial circumstance.
Later in the story, they go to the bank where their father works, and that is how they come to meet William Weatherall Wilkins (Colin Firth), who has run the bank instead of his very old uncle and, as already shown to us from the very beginning, is a mean, greedy guy who is quite ready to repossess the Banks family’s house. After their rather unpleasant encounter with Wilkins, Michael’s children try to warn their father about what Wilkins is planning to do, but, of course, Michael does not listen to his children much as mostly occupied with that gloomy possibility of losing their house.
While its story, written by David Magee, co-producer John DeLuca, and director/co-producer Rob Marshall, is pretty predictable to say the least, the movie cheerfully and colorfully bounces from one musical moment to another, and Marshall and his technical crew did a competent job of presenting these musical moments with enough amount of fun and excitement. While the production design by John Myhre and Gordon Sim and the costume design by Sandy Powell are top-notch, the score by Marc Shaiman jubilantly soars during several non-musical moments in the film, and it is also effectively mixed with a number of original songs written by Shaiman and Scott Wittman. Although their songs in the film are not as catchy as those infectious classic songs by the Sherman Brothers in the 1964 film, these songs are still pretty entertaining on the whole, and you may hum two or three of them after the movie is over.
Above all, the movie is held together well by the engaging lead performance from Emily Blunt, who has steadily impressed us since her juicy supporting turn in “The Devil Wears Prada” (2006). I must point out that she does not surpass Julie Andrews’ iconic Oscar-winning performance in the 1964 film (Well, how can that be ever possible?), but Blunt finds her own way to play Poppins, and she deftly handles a number of musical sequences in the film besides “Can You Imagine That?”. I was especially delighted as watching her dexterously performing a couple of vaudeville numbers along with Lin-Manuel Miranda, and I also liked how she shows some tenderness via Oscar-nominated song “The Place Where Lost Things Go” while never overlooking her character’s distant and unflappable attitude.
The other main cast members in the film fill their respective broad characters as much as required. While young performers Pixie Davies, Nathanael Saleh, and Joel Dawson are suitably plucky, Ben Whishaw, Emily Mortimer, Julie Walters, David Warner, and Colin Firth are under-utilized in their thankless roles, and Meryl Streep, Angela Lansbury, and Dick Van Dyke provide some extra fun via their cameo appearances. In case of Miranda, he certainly shows us why he has been one of the leading Broadway musical stars during recent years, and that is more than enough to forgive his questionable Cockney accent in the film, which, in my inconsequential opinion, sounds as strained as Van Dyke’s in the 1964 film.
While I am still not so sure about whether it is really necessary, “Mary Poppins Returns” is a well-made product packed with some goodies to be savored, and I was entertained by many of its highlights although they feel like redundant derivatives from the 1964 film from time to time. It did not exactly refresh me, but I had a fairly good time at least, so I will not complain here.