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Another jolly holiday

Joel Dawson, Emily Blunt, Pixie Davies, and Nathanael Saleh (left to right) in Mary Poppins Returns (© 2018 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.)

Movie

Another jolly holiday

Mary Poppins Returns admirably attempts to recapture the magic of the nanny we all know

Even before it hit theaters on Wednesday, Mary Poppins Returns was breaking records. Not for the box office, but for the longest time between an original live action film and its sequel. The lovely Tom Hanks movie Saving Mr. Banks notwithstanding, Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers was known to be as prickly as her literary creation and famously hated the songs and animation in the 1964 film. That left the Walt Disney Co. unable even to discuss a second film until after her death in 1996. 

The intervening years have only made our hearts fonder of the practically perfect nanny and the catchy tunes Travers inexplicably disliked. Is there a child in the English-speaking world who can’t sing “A Spoonful of Sugar,” “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” or “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” on command? So there’s no doubt director Rob Marshall and his team had their work cut out for them in crafting a new Poppins movie that wouldn’t feel like sacrilege to families everywhere. For the most part, they’ve succeeded.

The heavy lifting falls to Emily Blunt. It’s a brave actress who’s willing to reprise not just a Julie Andrews role, but arguably her most iconic. While not quite reaching her predecessor’s level (and let’s be honest, who could?), Blunt manages a version of Poppins close enough to the 1964 portrayal not to feel jarring while at the same time putting her own spin on the character. 

Blunt’s singing voice is pleasant enough, and we don’t really expect it to display the once-in-a-generation talent Andrews possessed. However, while we understand that Mary Poppins is still supposed to be commanding, Blunt fails to own the screen with the same infallible presence. In fact, one scene where a now-grown Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw) snaps at Mary drew gasps from my screening audience: We instinctively understood that no matter how many years have passed, Michael should remember his old nanny is not a lady to be trifled with. 

Blunt’s Mary, though, is a little smiley to be truly imposing. You get the sense she would long to join a tea party on the ceiling rather than cluck with disapproval and levitate because she must. She is just a little less proper, particularly when she performs the cheeky number “A Cover Is Not the Book.” She’s Mary Poppins by way of Eliza Doolittle, which, while different, is fun in its own way.

© 2018 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Lin-Manuel Miranda, Emily Blunt, Pixie Davies, Nathanael Saleh, and Joel Dawson in Mary Poppins Returns. (© 2018 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.)

Lin-Manuel Miranda has the easier task as the successor to Dick Van Dyke’s Bert. His lamplighter Jack, while not nearly as funny, brings an infectious energy, particularly in a few fun rap sequences. His big musical number “Trip a Little Light Fantastic,” featuring ingenious BMX-style bike stunts by his fellow lamplighters, is an endearing homage to “Step in Time” and is the closest the music comes to reaching the heights of the original songs.

While hitting the same narrative beats as Mary Poppins, the overall tone of Mary Poppins Returns (rated PG) is heavier, focusing on the loss of a parent. Nothing wrong with that, but Christian moms and dads will want to discuss with their kids that, though beautiful, the song “The Place Where Lost Things Go” is ultimately tragic: It offers no assurance to the three Banks children that they’ll ever see their mother again. It’s equally sad that Michael seems to believe his wife lives on only in their memories.

© 2018 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Lin-Manuel Miranda as Jack (at right) (© 2018 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.)

That aside, Mary Poppins Returns admirably strives to stay true to the spirit of the jolly holiday we’ve been having with Mary for more than 50 years. Beautifully atmospheric with watercolor parks and thick, lamp-lit fogs, there’s nary a hint of cynicism. Even if it runs about 20 minutes too long and the new tunes blow straight out of your mind like an umbrella caught by a west wind, you’ll still come out singing “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” in a most delightful way.

Comments

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  •  phillipW's picture
    phillipW
    Posted: Thu, 12/27/2018 03:56 pm

    I thought it was flat out fantastic!  Two hours of wonderful fun and imagination that is safe for the entire family without even a remote hint of controversy.  Blunt was fantastic as Mary Poppins, and this movie comes with my highest recommendation.  Absolutely fantastic!

    P.S.  Try not to overthink this movie the way the reviewer above has, and let go of your cynicism for a couple of hours.  You'll enjoy this movie that much more that way.

  • godmadetastebuds
    Posted: Wed, 01/09/2019 08:39 am

    This was a perfect assessment of the movie. I agree wholeheartedly. It was fun and very good, with forgettable music and dark undertones.