Creating a sequel to a movie as widely beloved as the original Mary Poppins is no small undertaking. Her iconic red shoes are an enormous challenge to fill, however Emily Blunt surpasses all expectations and, whilst respecting and paying tribute to Julie Andrews’ original portrayal, makes the role her own.
Much of Rob Marshall’s sequel parallels the 1964 classic in terms of both plot and characters. The movie begins and we are led through the gloomy streets of 1930’s London by Jack, the cheerful lamplighter brought to life by the incredible Lin-Manuel Miranda, who sings of the Lovely London Sky and leads us straight to the front door of 17 Cherry Tree Lane. Here we meet the now grown Jane and Michael Banks (Emily Mortimer and Ben Whishaw). Whilst Jane now campaigns for worker’s rights, she remains the sweet, giggling girl we met all those years ago. Michael, however, has become burdened with the pressures of adult life. An artist at heart, he has followed in his father’s footsteps and taken a job at Fidelity Fiduciary Bank and is struggling to support his three young children after the passing of his wife, Kate. The true extent of his sorrow is made clear during Whishaw’s heart wrenching rendition of A Conversation.
The Banks children, Annabel (Pixie Davies), John (Nathanael Saleh) and Georgie (Joel Dawson), are the real joy of this film. Quietly grieving the death of their mother, they look after each other and, despite some initial skepticism, dive headfirst into all of the adventures Poppins takes them on. After, that is, Georgie and the gang bring her home to Jane and Michael exclaiming “I was flying a kite and it got caught on a nanny!”
The biggest adventure for the Banks children comes during bath time, where Poppins reveals an unknown world below the bubbles in Can You Imagine That? Jack accompanies the gang on their next escapade, which lies not in a chalk pavement drawing but a Royal Doulton bowl (The Royal Doulton Music Hall), where Poppins and Jack perform an extremely un-poppins-esque music hall song and dance (A Cover is not the Book).
Emily Blunt truly sold herself to me as Poppins whilst singing the haunting melody of The Place Where the Lost Things Go. As she sang to the Banks children to comfort them while they are grieving, I realised I was crying quiet tears; this was when the magic of the film really came together for me. Blunt creates a perfect balance of Poppins’ stern quality, compassion for the children, and the sense of wonder that makes the iconic nanny as magical as she is; she takes all the best of Julie Andrews’ original qualities and adds in some extra touches of her own.
Whilst I don’t see the songs sticking with people as firmly as the iconic songs written by the Sherman brothers all those years ago, Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman score delivers some heartfelt moments as well as all the fun of a show number in Trip a Little Light Fantastic.
Colin Firth portrays the perfect Disney villain in William Weatherall Wilkins. Meryl Streep’s Cousin Topsy is a barrel of laughs and is immediately loved by the Banks children as well as young viewers everywhere. Dick Van Dyke’s appearance at the end of the film was a personal highlight and had me in tears; the 93 year old’s energy and charm equals that of everyone else in the cast, if not surpassing it. I’m surprised I’m writing this as I went into the cinema with a huge level of skepticism over this film, but Mary Poppins Returns is a worthy sequel that captures all the magic and excitement of the original film through it’s stellar cast, cracking score, and stunning performances across the board .