The original Mary Poppins was released in 1964 and because I wasn’t born yet by the time, I caught it on home video. When I saw it as a kid, it was already a classic but its magic was not lost on me. Up to this very day, I still have a very clear image of the umbrella carrying nanny and the songs “supercalifragelisticexpialidocious” and “Spoonful of Sugar” embedded in my memory. It was interesting to see Disney try to relive the magic cast by the tandem of Julie Andrews and Dick van Dyke in a sequel featuring an all new cast. Good thing they did not disappoint.
Synopsis: In 1930s London, Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw), now a widowed father of three children and his sister Jane (Emily Mortimer), are running against the clock to pay off a loan that Michael took on their family home after his wife’s death. They are given exactly five days by the bank’s greedy chairman Mr. Wilkins (Colin Firth) in his drive to repossess countless properties to double the bank’s profits. In their time of crisis, their mysterious nanny from their childhood days, Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) appears right in time to help the family with a little dose of magic and hope to find their way back to a happier time.
I must admit that I was a bit on the fence about casting Emily Blunt for the role of Mary Poppins because Julie Andrews’ shoes were pretty tough to fill. I was pleasantly surprised at how well she delivered on the role. Blunt had a nice singing voice and a sauciness about her that was very different from the previous version, but it was mainly because Emily Blunt had sharper features than Julie Andrews. While Julie Andrews’ Mary Poppins went about her business with a sweet mysterious smile, Blunt’s version had a certain sternness to it that made her appear stricter than her predecessor. The good thing about Blunt’s portrayal though, was that she did not try to mimic her predecessor’s performance but rather put her own spin on the role to avoid comparison, and she did well enough on her own.
I also liked the Banks family straight away. There was no unruly children in this family but rather three kids who are mature enough to want to help their father deal with his problems but in the process, have sort of forgotten what it was like to let go and anjoy their childhood. Their sweet version of “The Place Where the Lost Things Go,” was so innocent and pure that I could not help but feel the tears flow. I also loved Ben Whishaw as their father. I just wanted to give him a hug in every scene, even when his frustration mounted and he kind of lost it with his kids. I liked how he came full circle, back to the time when he was a child and believed in Mary Poppins’ magic. Emily Mortimer was also pretty cute but she was kind of relegated to a secondary role.
On the flipside, I was completely blown away by Lin Manuel Miranda’s performance as Jack, the lampilighter who, as a child also joined the Banks kids’ adventures with Mary Poppins, given that he was the protege of Mary’s close friend Bert (Dick van Dyke). At times, I felt that Jack’s presence even overshadowed Mary, so good was he, especially in the big productions like Trip a Little Light Fantastic or the quieter ones like Underneath the London Sky. He had such a big presence and his theater experience really helped him pull off a larger than life performance for this iconic sequel. I became an instant fan.
I loved that Mary Poppins Returns tapped into the strengths of the first movie like the 2D animation and live action fusion which made it very consistent but no less magical. I think that even millenials will find this approach effective, and even refreshing, given that they are used to 3D animation nowadays. The effects have also been updated and are more fluid now than that in the 1960s but it remains familiar because it was cut from the same cloth.
What really brought the magic was the music and the productions. The sentimentality for the old and the excitement for the new brought a sense of wonder from the film’s opening production up to the last. It wove an invisible thread of consistency throughout the film. It felt a big stage production that transtitioned flawlessly from scene to scene that gave it a feeling like visiting a Disneyland theme park. It was the perfect combination of artistry, choreography, creativity that makes the movie a truly engaging experience.
All in all, Mary Poppins Returns was the perfect sequel to the classic masterpiece as it managed to deliver the same magic that the original version created. There may be a different cast of actors, but everyone set out to deliver an effective performance to live up to the classic. It was very Disney from start to finish — the music, the visuals and the universal message of hope, family and love all came together for a thrilling and memorable experience that one won’t soon forget.
PS. Watch out for Dick van Dyke, Meryl Streep and Angela Lansbury in their special appearances.
Kudos to director Rob Marshall and writers David Magee and John de Luca for this beautiful film. Also, to Marc Shaiman for the music and the amazing choreography by Deone Beebe.