By Jack Dignan
In Cinemas January 1st
One of my favourite moments from the 1964 original big screen adaptation of Mary Poppins is an early musical number from Dick Van Dyke, which sees him as a sort of one-man-band. The sequence ends with chimes in the sky, as Van Dyke looks up in awe and admiration, and mutters to himself (read: the audience), “winds in the east, mist coming in… like something is brewing, about to begin…” it’s a moment of utter magic, giving the audience a sensation of delight and wonder, and now, sixty-four years later, the mist has come in and something is brewing once more.
It’s been a few decades since Mary Poppins (now portrayed ever-so-elegantly by Emily Blunt) last visited the Banks children, and those loveable bright-eyed kids have grown up into adults who’ve been burdened and tossed around by the real world. After losing his wife, Michael (Ben Wishaw) struggles to afford the house he and Jane (Emily Mortimer) once grew up in. While they make a list-ditch attempt to recover their late father’s inheritance before the bank seizes their house, their children are in desperate need of a nanny. So, right on cue, out of the sky flies Mary Poppins.
Mary Poppins Returns is complete unbridled joy and affection from start to finish. It’s a wholesome, pure and affectionate sequel that serves as a much-needed reminder to look at the world through the perspective of a kid. Through loss and hardship, through thick and thin, through all the pain imaginable, all you need is a little bit of love and a lot of magic. This long-awaited sequel is a perfect combination of nostalgia, charm and joyfully refreshing positivity. Truly, this is the film the world needs right now.
Emily Blunt has big shoes to fill when following in the footsteps of Julie Andrews, who won an Oscar for her portrayal of the beloved literary figure, but Blunt carries this film with a shimmer in her eye and a subtle smile hidden behind every dry remark. You’ll forget the character was ever recast. This time around, we get to see a little bit more of the way she lives her life and the way her magic rubs off on those around her, all while retaining the mystery and open-endedness of her character.
The story structure is akin to that of the original, all the way down to a late first appearance of the titular character to a lower-class, constantly dirty hero played by Lin Manuel Miranda (who fully embraces the loveable atrocity of an accent originated by Van Dyke, the clear inspiration behind his character), but screenwriter David Magee (Life of Pi) works with this and makes the film his own. It’s every bit as whimsical and unpredictable as you’d hope for in a Mary Poppins sequel, and you can tell that the cast are having an absolute blast playing around in this world, especially during a closing musical number.
Everything from the colourful set design to the lively lighting to the gorgeous retro 2D animation sequences all comes together perfectly, making this a visual feast that’s matched with top notch musical numbers. They had me wanting to jump and dance in the aisles. I haven’t been able to put away the soundtrack since its release last week. Director Rob Marshall has made a lot of utterly fantastic films, including the more recent Into the Woods, which felt as though it was taking inspiration from the original Mary Poppins, but this will go down as his definitive high point. It’s utterly magical.
Speaking as someone who has a small, but unremarkable nostalgia for the first, I can honestly say I enjoyed Mary Poppins Returns even more. A lot of you may not agree (it’s got a great deal of underdeveloped characters, some occasional very-minor logic issues, and a seemingly un-rendered opening shot), but no matter which you prefer, Mary Poppins Returns is a film filled to the brim with charm and delight. There’s no way you won’t leave the theatre buzzing with a smile on your face and warmth in your heart. It’s a sequel that’s practically perfect in every way. Nanny McPhee is shaking in her grave.
4 1/2 Stars
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