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But viewers who mistake the picture for a remake can be forgiven, because “Mary Poppins Returns” pushes its narrative through the self-same template of the original, right down to the placement of the musical numbers. Only the haunting and heartbreaking place occupied in the original picture by actress Jane Darwell and “Feed the Birds” is left vacant. In fact, about the biggest difference between “Mary Poppins” and “Mary Poppins Returns” is that this time around the magical nanny has three children in her charge instead of two.
Set some thirty years after the events of the original picture, in “Mary Poppins Returns” Jane and Michael Banks are now adults who barely remember their childhood adventures with the nanny who literally drifted down from the clouds. Jane has taken after her suffragette mother and is now a political activist fighting for the rights of oppressed workers. And Michael, a recent widower unable to support his three young children as an artist, has recently taken a part-time job as a teller in the Fidelity Fiduciary Bank where his late father once toiled as a senior partner.
Already disenfranchised by the death of their mother, Michael’s three adorable children are soon additionally troubled to learn that the bank is about to foreclose on their family home. Michael’s absentmindedly forgotten to make the three most recent payments to Fidelity Fiduciary after mortgaging the property to meet the family’s expenses. The family will be evicted if they’re unable to pay off the loan in full by Big Ben’s final toll of midnight, three days hence.
To breathe some desperately-needed order into this chaotic situation, Mary Poppins returns, literally descending from the clouds to return the children’s kite during a stormy day. And with the help of her old chum Jack the Lamplighter, a former apprentice to the original film’s Bert the Chimney Sweep, the magical nanny endeavors to teach the Banks children the value of organized imagination...and remind the grown-up Michael and Jane of the love and wonder often left behind when children become adults.
The biggest danger of producing a new movie founded upon the magic of a beloved motion picture classic is that the new movie will inevitably and automatically be compared with the original, a risk that Disney of all studios knows well. Since...well, since forever, the studio’s been occasionally pilfering their own vaults to wring new memories--and money--from old classics.
Fortunately--thankfully--”Mary Poppins Returns” is strong enough and contains sufficient movie magic to not only withstand comparisons with the 1964 musical classic, but also to stand on its own feet. The viewer can’t help comparing the two pictures, but the filmmakers seem to expect the comparisons, if not welcome them...and even challenge them. And you know what? They win the challenge.
There’s been some minor complaining about actress Emily Blunt’s characterization in the title role being...well, a little nasty, snotty with a capital B. Detractors suggest Blunt invests the beloved nanny with unnecessary amounts of sternness, conceit, arrogance, and a chilly exterior. Translation: Emily Blunt is not Julie Andrews.
But that’s just the price the actress pays for her characterization being accurate to Travers’ storybooks. Julie Andrews could sing through a smile even when she was weeping tears of heartbreak, an attribute which worked well for the 1964 picture. But Blunt, who has a surprisingly strong singing voice and has been referred to by co-star Lin-Manuel Miranda as “human sunshine,” is primarily known, and lauded, as a dramatic actress. Occasional eye-rolling aside, Blunt brings all of her artistic qualities to bear in the picture, and more than holds her own in the choreography department also.
Blunt is an experienced-enough performer to invest the role of Mary Poppins with wit, charm, charisma...and during her performance of the song “The Cover is Not the Book” even an unexpected breath of sexuality Andrews could not manage even during her brief nude scene in the 1981 comedy “S.O.B.” Had Andrews not appeared in the role first, and won an Academy Award for her performance, Blunt’s interpretation might be considered definitive, and receive unqualified praise. The highest accolade: P. L. Travers would be delighted with Blunt’s characterization. And that says a lot.
No slouch in the human sunshine department himself, Lin-Manuel Miranda shares many of Emily Blunt’s artistic qualities as Jack, the Lamplighter. Already an entertainment legend through his historic success as the author, composer, and star of Broadway’s “Hamilton,” Miranda with his warm smile, kind eyes, and open, guileless countenance transforms the Lamplighter into a wonderful companion for the children...and also eventually for the single Jane Banks. Miranda shines in his every scene, but wisely--and generously--dims his star power a little when sharing the stage with Blunt or the children.
Also making appearances in “Mary Poppins Returns” are Ben Whishaw and Emily Mortimer as the adult Michael and Jane Banks, Julie Walters as Michael’s housekeeper, and Colin Firth as Wilkins, the president of the Fidelity Bank and villain of the piece. That’s Royal Shakespeare Company veteran and frequent film villain David Warner as Admiral Boom next door.
Dick Van Dyke appears in a charming cameo, at age 93 almost miraculously nimble as Mr. Dawes, the bank’s chairman. Meryl Streep and Angela Lansbury also contribute brief musical performances, Streep in more or less the spot occupied in the original picture by the great comic actor Ed Wynn. Karen Dotrice, the original picture’s Jane Banks, can be seen in one brief shot near the beginning of the picture, as an stylishly-dressed woman in front of the Banks home. And that’s the voice of Chris O’Dowd as the animated Shamus the Coachman.
Directed by Rob Marshall, an old hand with movie adaptations of Broadway musicals after his experience with the Academy Award-winning “Chicago” from 2002, as well as “Nine” in 2009 and “Into the Woods” in 2014, “Mary Poppins” was adapted from Travers’ books by David McGee, with new songs by composer Marc Shaiman and lyricist Scott Whitman in the tradition of the 1964 original. Academy Award-winning “Mary Poppins” co-composer Richard Sherman was a music consultant on the new film.
If some of the sets seems familiar, the original background artwork created for “Mary Poppins” by legendary matte artist Peter Ellenshaw was resurrected for the picture.
The highly-recommended “Mary Poppins Returns” is rated PG for some mild thematic elements and brief action.
My favorite part was when Mary Poppins and Jack were singing about, “don’t judge a book by it’s cover.” To see the books come alive and then dancing through them. So cool!! Also, I loved when Dick Van Dyke danced on the bank desk. Plus, when Mary Poppins, Jack, and the 3 children jumped into the broken China bowl and fixed the carriage to take a ride. And of course, when Mary Poppins draws them a bath and you see a real dolphin pop out.
The music was wonderful!! I loved Emily Blunt’s delivery and she did everything “Mary Poppins perfect”! Jack’s singing was wonderful as well and then when the lamp-lighters danced and sang, it was just awesome. I loved how they added choreography with the bike tricks. Super cool.
Everything was beautiful but what was best of all — is how Disney still brought in new magic BUT! held onto the old magic all at the same time. That is so hard to do! They could have done crazy things but they just held onto the original Mary Poppins magic and tricks all while putting a new spin on them.
I just loved it!!! Excellent job Emily Blunt! Excellent job Disney!
You all did not disappoint!