Mary Poppins Returns has all the benefits that one might expect to come from a film being made in 2018, yet what Mary Poppins Returns has most delightfully of all is a full-on sense of its classic cinematic roots and the legacy to which generations of moviegoing fans have clung to for all these years.
If you were worried that Rob Marshall would tarnish the Mary Poppins name, worry not. While Mary Poppins Returns doesn't quite live up to the magic and wonder of its predecessor, it possesses enough magic and wonder of its own to captivate both adults and children alike who to this day can sing along with every tune from the original Mary Poppins and who now, in time, will be able to do the very same thing with this delightfully gorgeous and immensely contagious follow-up that begins some twenty-odd years after the events in the original film.
Michael Banks, played with whimsical perfection by voice of Paddington Ben Whishaw, is an adult now and even a widower. He's struggling to maintain the household for his children Annabel (Pixie Davies), George (Joel Dawson), and John (Nathanael Saleh) despite the interventions of his more practically minded activist sister (Emily Mortimer). We meet Lin-Manuel Miranda's Jack, a lamplighter of course, quite early on as the dreariness of the Banks's life envelopes the screen and the skies until, as we should expert, one Mary Poppins, now played by the nearly impeccable Emily Blunt, descends from the skies and assumes her proper existence in the lives of these people who now need her more than ever.
While there could be no replacing of Julie Andrews, from her opening seconds onscreen Blunt becomes Mary Poppins and it only takes us a moment to surrender to her go-to-itiveness and her supreme confidence with just the right amounts of warmth and familial presence. Blunt may not be Julie Andrews, but she is Mary Poppins and her presence lights up the screen.
Blunt is front-and-center here, though wisely director Rob Marshall has not tried to make Mary Poppins Returns a one-woman show. She is surrounded by an utterly charming cast, from the infinitely likable and impossible to not swoon to Miranda to the rather endearing trio of children now under her chart to, yes, even the quirky and giggly Meryl Streep's ridiculous cameo that is nevertheless an immense joy to watch unfold.
There are a couple of cameos that will delight, of course, with only one getting a mention here as the 92-year-old Dick Van Dyke shows up and reveals that once you've got the moves they never completely leave you.
Marc Shaiman's enchants from beginning to end, both paying homage to its 1964 predecessor yet finding a rhythm and a groove all its own. Marshall pays equally gentle homage to the original Mary Poppins, yet Mary Poppins Returns never becomes weighed down by its legacy. True devotees of Mary Poppins will recognize the little touches, though the joy-filled surprises certainly won't be spoiled here.
Mary Poppins Returns manages to feel both contemporary and classic, its colorful whimsy simultaneously dazzling from current moviemaking magic yet surprisingly old-fashioned in its message and overall tone. The film is rated PG, and could easily be G-rated, and those who grew up on classic Disney are bound to feel more than a little nostalgic.
The tunes in Mary Poppins Returns may not have quite the staying power as those of the Sherman Brothers, though Shaiman and Scott Wittman have crafted appropriate, vibrant numbers still possessing quite a bit of snap and dazzle.
Mary Poppins Returns, indeed, and she's an absolutely wonderful gift for the entire family this holiday season.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic