Mary Poppins Returns
It takes courage to attempt a sequel to a decades-old classic, but if you’re Disney you have the credit with viewers to try and squeeze out more money out of a franchise. Fortunately, the newest sequel from the studio went to hands of people who deeply cared about the material.
Mary Poppins Returns is a sequel to the 1964 Mary Poppins starring Julie Andrews in the titular role. In the first film the magic nanny came to turn-of-the-century London to care for the Banks children. This new film jumps a few decades to 1930s London deep in the Great Depression. The Banks children are now grown up (Ben Wishaw and Emily Mortimer), with Michael Banks having been widowed and left with his three young children (Pixie Davies, Nathanel Saleh, Joel Dawson) and in financial stress. In comes in Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt taking over Andrews) to save the distraught family.
The film is more of a remake of the original than a real sequel, however, it is able to take the successful elements from the first film and give them a proper update that nearly betters its predecessor. It was very similar in that sense to Creed and Star Wars: The Force Awakens; however, those two films were borrowing more than creating their own path. In Mary Poppins Returns there is a clear want for distinction, by having completely new songs, a new take on the magic nanny (Blunt’s is more cold and stern like the book version), and a completely fresh cast (only a surprise cameo at the end from someone in the ’64 version). The result is that the film is able to strike out on its own, and I must say it ended up trumping the original in may facets, not least of which the new technology and resources available provide a more immersive magical ride.
The role of Poppins would have been an intimidating one for any actress to take, it would be like trying to recast Vito Corleone or Han Solo. However, Blunt found the right path by not trying to imitate Andrews instead looking for a different take on her character. The result is a Poppins with more depth than the 1964 version as we see the nanny have a disciplinarian façade and yet have her actions be comforting and sweet to the children. There is a twinkle in Poppins’ eye or the ghost of a smile that Blunt is able to provide that helps anchor the entire film, you almost pry into her personal emotions and a certain sadness as she flies away from family to family not really belonging anywhere herself. In fact, when Blunt isn’t on screen, such as in the beginning or end of the film, the sequences and plot seem flat. Not even a very enthusiastic Lin Manuel Miranda who plays a new version of Bert (played by Dick Van Dyke in the original) named Jack can lift the film without Blunt’s help.
Aside from Blunt there was the music that could have held the film up, but I was a bit disappointed that most of the songs were interchangeable and none catchy or memorable. However, what did save these particular scenes and sequences was the amazing choreography that was orchestrated by the film director himself: Rob Marshall (who also wrote and produced the film). The dancing numbers are a spectacle to behold with a clear attempt to use as many practical events and as little CGI as possible, and the viewer is able to appreciate that by seeing the actors actually interact with their set and not be standing behind a green screen. Clearly Marshall’s background in Broadway musical pays off in providing a certain realism to his fantastical elements.
The combo of Blunt’s charisma and the electrifying dance numbers is enough to color in this film and make it the proper escape that many of us look for in movies and TV today. Mary Poppins Returns is a proper sequel that brings an appealing update that for many viewers may prove to be even more alluring than the original.