‘Mary Poppins Returns’ Amazingly Brings Back the Magic

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Mary Poppins Returns Review

I’m not going to lie. When I first heard that Disney was producing a sequel to Mary Poppins my cynicism kicked into high gear. My initial thought was that knowing that there’d be no big Star Wars in December, Disney aimed to appease its stockholders with a billion-dollar hit by making a sequel to one of its most beloved movies in its illustrious history. While I had faith in stars Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda, I’m not much a fan of its director Rob Marshall. Well, Mary Poppins Returns is going to be a billion-dollar hit, but it’s going to be one because it’s actually a good movie and not just because nostalgia is the flavor of the day. This is a colorful homage to original that has enough of its own personality that it doesn’t require the past to do its heavy lifting.

Decades after the events of the first film amidst the Great Depression, Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw) is a widower living in the same old house on Cherry Tree Lane with his three young children, Annabel (Pixie Davis), John (Nathaniel Saleh), and Georgie (Joel Dawson). Michael’s sister Jane (Emily Mortimer) often frequents their childhood home, which is tended to by Ellen (Julie Waters). Since the death of his wife, Michael has abandoned his passion for art and taken a job at the bank his father used to work at. With money tight, Michael took out a loan and the bank’s lawyers (Jeremy Smith and Kobna Holdbrook-Smith) have come knocking at the door to inform him that they plan to repossess the house. However, Michael was bequeathed shares in the bank that would save the house if he can find the certificate, though that’s proven to be quite difficult. As the Banks Family finds themselves in turmoil and disarray, an old friend comes knocking at their door.

The childhood nanny for the Banks Family, Mary Poppins (Blunt), has returned to help Michael with his own trio of children. At first, Michael and Jane have little memory of the magic that Poppins brought with her, thinking that the fantastical memories were just that of a child’s imagination. But it’s only a matter of time before Annabel, John, and Georgie get their own lesson in the magic of Mary Poppins. Roaming the streets of London around all of the events unfolding is Jack (Miranda), a leerie (also known as a lamplighter) who recalls interacting with Poppins during his youth when working as a wee chimneysweep.

The plot of Mary Poppins Returns is simplistic and that works mightily in the film’s favor as it’s never burdened with an overabundance of expository dialogue. Screenwriter David Magee (working from a story by himself, Marshall, and John DeLuca) takes the right amount of nostalgia from the 1964 classic and merges it with various aspects from the other novels by Poppins creator P.L. Travers to create something that simultaneously feels old and new. It also allows Marshall and his team of collaborators to inject the film with a number of colorful supporting characters, including Meryl Streep as Mary Poppins’ cousin Topsy and Colin Firth as the current president of Fidelity Fiduciary Bank.

Another area where Marshall and company have struck the right note with Mary Poppins Returns is the film’s music. The songs composed by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman have a classical showtune feel in their kind of bombastic spirit complete with the perfect little sprinkle of wit in the lyrics. The songs combined with Marshall’s astute direction give Mary Poppins Returns at the very least three killer musical numbers. The first big number “Can You Imagine That?” features the children getting their first introduction to Poppins’ magical abilities. With “A Cover Is Not the Book,” Poppins, Jack, and the children enter a fantastical 2-D world in a glorious sequence that is also a lovely homage to the original. However, the big show stopper is “Trip a Little Light Fantastic,” where Jack and his fellow leeries light the way home for Poppins and her young cohorts when they get lost. It’s a big number full of bravado and gusto, even if there’s one aspect to the staging that the film could’ve done without. Minor quibbles aside, it’s these moments that really capture why Mary Poppins Returns can win over even a hardened cynic such as myself.

In the eponymous role of Mary Poppins, Emily Blunt delivers some wonderful work. She brings a wry sense of humor to her magical nanny, unafraid of a suggestive nod to the audience that’ll fly over the heads of children. Thankfully, she’s not even attempting to mimic Julie Andrews iconic performance which allows Blunt and the film to stand on its own. In his first major motion picture role, Lin-Manuel Miranda brings an infectious sense of joy as this leerie whose never lost that child-like sense of wonder. Of course, his cockney accent is a bit exaggerated and hokey, but it works as perfect homage to Dick Van Dyke’s accent in the original film.

There is a bit of a Paddington 2 connection at play in this particular sequel, and I’m not just talking about Mary Poppins’ wardrobe consisting of a blue coat and bright red hat. Each Ben Whishaw and Julie Walters have substantial roles in each film, and Colin Firth was originally cast the adorable bear. The two films are also similar in their themes and locations, though Paddington does edge out the magical nanny in my eyes.

Honestly, I still can’t believe I enjoyed Mary Poppins Returns as much as I did. I went in with a fair amount of skepticism and was shocked by rousing musical numbers, its impeccable production and costume design, and a whimsical sense of humor and heart. Rob Marshall pulled off what I thought was impossible and Emily Blunt avails herself in the nigh-impossible role of following Julie Andrews. After a long wait, Mary Poppins has returned and she brought the magic with her once again.

Mary Poppins Returns
  • Overall Score


An endlessly charming homage to the original classic that stands on its own, Mary Poppins Returns brings the magic back with a film featuring lush visuals and some stunning, rousing musical numbers.

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