Nearly five decades later, the magic is back in “Mary Poppins Returns”

Emily Blunt embodies everyone's favorite magical nanny in this sequel to a Disney classic

Photo credit: Walt Disney Studios

To say that making a sequel to a film done in 1964 is unexpected would be an understatement of massive proportions. To make a sequel to one of the most loved films of all time in the form of Mary Poppins might be even more so. Yet Disney and acclaimed director Rob Marshall took on that challenge, and the result is a love letter to that beloved flick as Emily Blunt steps into Julie Andrews’ shoes in Mary Poppins Returns.

Set 25 years after the events of the original film, a grown-up Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw) still lives in his childhood home on Cherry Tree Lane in London. His wife Kate has recently passed, so his sister Jane (Emily Mortimer) is helping to raise Michael’s three children: John (Nathanael Saleh), Annabel (Pixie Davies), and Georgie (Joel Dawson). Things have been difficult for the Banks family and the Fidelity Fiduciary Bank where Michael works is threatening to repossess their home unless he pays back a loan he took out in a few days.

Recalling how their father George left them shares in the bank, Michael and Jane try to search for a certificate proving ownership of those shares. Meanwhile, the children come across the dilapidated kite that triggered the first film’s events and even as Georgie tries to fly it, the boy almost gets tossed in the park. When the howling wind calms, the end of the kite sees Mary Poppins (Blunt) attached to it and seemingly not having aged a day. Mary Poppins presents herself to Michael and Jane to serve as the children’s nannyonce more, and Michael welcomes her offer to lighten his load as he scramblesto save their house.

With the help of lamplighter Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda), Mary Poppins and the children are taken on a magical, musical journey. From the bottom of their bath tub to the inside of a bowl that their mother valued, and even on a topsy-turvy adventure with Mary’s cousin Topsy (Meryl Streep), the children just want to help their father save their home. Even as those occur, the scheming new manager of the bank, William Weatherall Wilkins (Colin Firth) is also doing his best to make sure that the bank repossesses that same property.

In the over five decades since Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke starredin Mary Poppins, that film and thoseactors have become iconic and the songs written by the Sherman Brothers part ofpopular culture. The creation of PL Travers, Walt Disney himself supposedlywanted to produce a sequel as early as 1965, but Travers wouldn’t approve ofit. Travers and Disney have long since passed, as have many of the actors thatstarred in that first film, thus this was a daunting challenge for anyone whowould be crazy enough to take it on. Yet Marshall, the director of Chicago, Memoirs of a Geisha, and Into the Woods, brought his passion and love for the property and met that challenge head on.

Musician Marc Shaiman meets that challenge with Marshall, and the musical numbers in Mary Poppins Returns clearly show echoes of the Sherman Brothers and is unapologetic in that regard. Several production numbers are undoubtedly inspired by Mary Poppins director Robert Stevenson, such as “The Royal DoultonMusic Hall” is inspired by the “Jolly Holiday with Mary,” the Topsy scene similar to Uncle Albert’s uncontrollable laughter, and the lamplighter dance as an update to the chimney sweep performance. Some musical cues can also be heard, albeit very faintly, when certain things or feelings are evoked, which only add to the warm feelings of nostalgia that this sequel inspire.

Miranda’s Jack is a worthy successor to Van Dyke’s Bert even as the children have the wonder that the original Michael and Jane (Matthew Garber and Karen Dotrice) had in 1964. Blunt is “positively perfect in every way” as she channels Andrews, sometimes even seeming a bit meaner than Andrews previously did, but that isn’t exactly a terrible thing in this case because there is an emotional detachment that the character needs to maintain as she knows that no matter how close she gets to the children, she will inevitably leave them. And even though Whishaw looks nothing like Garber, his adult Michael evokes sympathy as he struggles to keep his family together despite losing his wife and partner so recently.

Only time will tell if Mary Poppins Returns will have the same longevity and pop culture influence that Andrews’ original does, but it certainly won’t be for lack of trying or imagination.

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