In this follow-up to the classic 1964 Disney film “Mary Poppins,” Michael Banks is a widower with three kids (Annabel, John, and Georgie) in the middle of the Great Depression.  Despite the aid of his sister, Jane, the Banks family is falling on hard times, with the risk of foreclosure fast approaching.  Who else to come to their aid but Mary Poppins herself?  Decades after her first visit with Jane and Michael, she returns to help provide joy and wonder for the latter’s children, the very things that have been missing in their lives for so long now.  This time around, Mary is joined by the local lamplighter Jack, her mysteriously quirky cousin Topsy, and various other lamplighters and animated creatures in the adventures she and the children experience.  


Director Rob Marshall creates a film that bursts with appreciation and respect for its iconic predecessor, with a great deal of spirit flowing through the film to offer some fairly unique surprises, and yet it is slightly offset by some of the beats in David Magee’s script feeling recycled or off-center.  The songs themselves, courtesy of Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, are fantastic, living up to the standards held by the Sherman brothers for the original film.  The orchestrations of the songs and Shaiman’s score also faithfully capture the pomp, bombast, and plain old whimsy of the 1964 soundtrack; easily the standout numbers are “Trip a Little Light Fantastic,” “Can You Imagine That,” and “A Cover is Not the Book.”  The vigorous energy of the music and choreography is more apparent in the underwater escapade in a bathtub and bravura pencil animation segments in the park housed within a special china bowl.  Production designer John Myhre and costume designer Sandy Powell fill the screen with vibrant colors for the more wondrous sequences, contrasting those with the rigid aesthetics and plainly drab suits for the London setting, and the results couldn’t look more sumptuous.


Emily Blunt, as Mary Poppins herself, delivers a performance that remains distinctive from Julie Andrews’ classic interpretation, while also giving her more of a rough edge not unlike that found in P.L. Travers’ original concept.  Since Dick Van Dyke also rose to acclaim (and infamy) as Bert, Lin-Manuel Miranda follows suit in the role of Jack, with a similar set of clothes and identically cheesy Cockney accent.  Ben Whishaw and Emily Mortimer, in the roles of adult Michael and Jane, provide a neat touch of drama to balance out the peppy and upbeat vibe, as the more down-to-earth sibling duo, all grown up.  Seeing Van Dyke and Angela Lansbury is always something of a joy, especially in this day and age when the former gets up and dances and the latter gets to sing some rather melodious notes.  Unfortunately, Colin Firth comes across as flat in his portrayal of the mustache-twirlingly evil banker, while Meryl Streep’s Topsy, in her upside-down shop, doesn’t quite hold a candle to Uncle Albert as he floated up high on the ceiling from too much laughter.  David Warner, in the role of the elderly Admiral Boom, brings a great touch of bravado to his cameo appearance.   


If there is one movie that is sure to lighten up your mood, or even help that medicine go down, it is definitely the joyous (if somewhat derivative) “Mary Poppins Returns.”


*** “Ya-stars”

(Originally published on January 12, 2019)