Director: Rob Marshall
Cast: Emily Blunt, Lin-Manual Miranda, Ben Whishaw, Emily Mortimer, Julie Walters, Colin Firth
Running time: 130 minutes
Just a few heaped tablespoons of sugar help Mary Poppins Returns – the long-awaited sequel to the 1964 timeless classic – go down. Director Rob Marshall – best known for his 2002 Best Picture Oscar for Chicago – brings sweet, colourful cinematic candy floss in abundance as we once again delve into a fantastical world of adventure, animation, admirals, airborne Nannies, and occasionally wobbly accents.
In pre-WWII London – twenty years after she left – Mary Poppins Returns returns Mary Poppins (Blunt) to Cherry Tree Lane. A now grown-up Michael Banks (Whishaw) is struggling as a widowed father of three; while sister Jane (Mortimer) channels all her positive energy into her work as a labour organiser.
Grief has made Michael neglect the family finances and is on the brink of losing the family home unless he can repay a hefty loan to the bank within two weeks. Despite the best efforts of a new generation of Banks children – Annabel (Pixie Davies), John (Nathanael Saleh), and Georgie (Joel Dawson) – the chances of coughing up the dough seem pretty slim. Cue Mary Poppins, who swoops in covered head to toe in charm to remind the Banks family of the important things in life: love, optimism, and spontaneously breaking out in song.
Although it’s not quite a direct adaptation from any one of the seven Mary Poppins follow-up books, Mary Poppins Returns has all the delightfully syrupy sequel ingredients to follow P. L. Travers adored original. It’s a pleasantly familiar story in which adversities must be overcome, magical experiences are shared, and devious, moustache-wielding bank presidents get their comeuppance.
But in what is a fairly straight-lined narrative, Marshall and co. pump generously with enough impressive dance sequences, enough energy, and enough imagination to fill even the most spacious of its titular character’s travel bags. It might not have the most memorable songs to ruffle the feathers of Disney’s catchiest toe-tappers, nor ever reach the lofty notes of its predecessor, but this is an all sweet and no sour affair that pitches in with just about the right dose of nostalgia – imitations of the ’60’s hand-drawn animation, inclusive – emotional beats, and supercalifragilisticexpialidocious-ness to make it worthy of bearing the Poppins name.
Blunt effortlessly embodies the eponymous childcare from the second she descends from the clouds right up to the balloon-filled sky finale. It’s a slightly different interpretation to that of Julie Andrews’, but no less perfect in every way.
Miranda plays likeable lamp-lighter Jack as more of a by-the-numbers Bert caricature and is, as a result, less impactful. But it is Whishaw who quietly holds the film together by providing a necessary grounding as a distressed but loving father, and it is he who even manages to nab the film’s most emotionally endearing moment right from under everyone’s noses.
But, when it comes to anything with Mary Poppins in the title, it’s all about the good times – with a few gentle jabs at the heart strings for good measure – to give your cockles a good ol’ warming this winter.
With a great name comes great responsibility. Thankfully, Mary Poppins Returns just about passes the test with (floating) technicolour.