Twenty years after their magical nanny visited them and filled their heads with dreams and fantasies, brother and sister Michael (Ben Whishaw) and Jane Banks (Emily Mortimer) are all grown up in 1930s London. Michael mourns his wife, who died a year ago, but hides it from his three children (Pixie Davies, Nathanael Saleh, and Joel Dawson) and buries himself in work. When the Banks house on Cherry Tree Lane comes under threat, Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) returns. She is joined by a street lamplighter named Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda), a former apprentice of her old pal Bert.
From the opening number of ‘Lovely London Sky’, which is both lovely in nature and in name, ‘Mary Poppins Returns’ basically ticks all the boxes for the needs of musical lovers. Its songs, which number about ten original numbers, are catchy and whimsical, utilising musical references from songs in the original (such as ‘A Spoonful of Sugar’, ‘Feed the Birds’ and ‘Let’s Go Fly a Kite’) well. It was no easy task to pull off and we tip our hats to Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman (best-known for writing the music and lyrics for ‘Hairspray’).
Our lead, Emily Blunt, has proven her talent and worth time and again across various films and genres. She has ruled comedy (‘The Devil Wears Prada’), period drama (‘The Young Victoria’), action (‘Edge of Tomorrow’) and, as of this year, horror (‘A Quiet Place’). She reunites with Rob Marshall (‘Into the Woods’) to demonstrate once again that she’s a triple threat and nothing short of one of the most fabulous actresses working today. When she sings, the screen comes to life. A particular highlight can be found in her duet with Lin-Manuel Miranda – a truly loveable addition – for the cabaret number ‘A Cover is Not the Book’.
From start to finish, ‘Mary Poppins Returns’ is sweet, fun and fantastical. However, it sometimes mistakes silliness for charm. More frustrating still is that it feels less like a sequel than a remake. It mimics its predecessor scene for scene. You could say this is to appeal to fans. You could also call it lazy. There’s another live-action/animated scene, and a street lamplighters dance number to substitute the chimney sweeps’ number (the original being much more technically impressive, one has to add). A sense of magic gets lost when the film becomes formulaic. After all, part of the appeal of ‘Mary Poppins’ was its absence of predictability, the anticipation that came with having no idea what would happen next. Above all, the sequel’s main offence is the garish addition of Meryl Streep in the role of Mary’s (Russian?) cousin Topsy. The character is frankly a cringeworthy and hollow addition. Still, the Dick Van Dyke appearance in Act III does somewhat make up for it.
There is plenty to enjoy in the film, especially for musical fans and families. It’s very nice and good fun. It’s just that it doesn’t quite sweep you off your feet the way you’d hoped it would.