Mary Poppins Returns

MARY POPPINS RETURNS. Starring: Emily Blunt, Ben Whishaw, Emily Mortimer, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Dick Van Dyke, Colin Firth, Julie Walters, Angela Lansbury, and Meryl Streep. Directed by Rob Marshall. Rated G (A scene of very mild peril). 130 min.

This is an American musical fantasy film which is a sequel to the original “Mary Poppins” film of 1964, starring Julie Andrews. Dick Van Dyke is the only actor from the 1964 cast to return (in a different role). The story is based on the original novel of the same name by P.L. Travers, and in the film Mary Poppins returns from the sky to take charge, as she did before.

Mary Poppins comes back after a family tragedy to help rediscover happiness in the family of Jane and Michael Banks -  25 years from her previous visit. The story tracks Michael (Ben Whishaw) and his sister, Jane ( Emily Mortimer), who are now grown up, and live with Michael’s three children in Cherry Tree Lane, London.

Mary Poppins returns to their lives as the practically-perfect, magical nanny, and is joined by an optimistic street-lighter called Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda). Emily Blunt plays Mary Poppins, and Colin Firth, Julie Walters, and Angela Lansbury add to the star power, which includes

Meryl Streep as Mary’s eccentric cousin, Topsy. The musical soundtrack for the film is a mix of original melodies, and new compositions.

The film received four nominations in the 2018 list for the Golden Globe Awards, including the category of “Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy”, and was rated by the National Board of Review as one of the top ten films of 2018.

It would take a very courageous executive of any major film studio to consider, let alone endorse, a sequel to the iconic 1964 film, “Mary Poppins”, which starred the wonderful Julie Andrews. The original film won multiple awards for Andrews and the film’s musical composers. Why would one revisit something so good? It would be a little like considering a sequel to “The Sound of Music”. Failure would mean a loss of acting reputation, massive financial losses, and trenchant, universal criticism. Moving forward with a sequel to an iconic film of the past was going to be a risk.

This film takes the risk and scores. Helped by the passing of 54 years since the original movie, the sequel benefits enormously by advanced techniques of film animation that have been developed in the interim. It brilliantly combines live-action and traditional hand-drawn animation and uses animators from Pixar Studios for many of its sequences. The performance by Emily Blunt as Mary Poppins is a stand-out. She makes the role her own, and the production design around her is excellent. Scenes of dancing in a porcelain vase, the shadowy dance of the lamp-lighters, and the spectacular “Nowhere to go but up” (as the movie concludes) are all remarkably visually creative.

With the passing of the years, there has been a shift in social-psychological message. Gone are the messages about female assertiveness and feminism in a new age - which seemed perfectly appropriate, and were well delivered by Julie Andrews. This is a film that transparently attempts to instil joy in grim times, and aims to establish the necessity for reassurance when Society is faced with uncertainty and impending change in “days of the great slump”. And it succeeds in doing so. Mary Poppins in this film is a modern Mary, who lives with hope in a vibrantly animated world, embellished by vivid colours, catchy music, spirited direction, and great costume design.

In the movie, insights about hope for the future are combined cleverly and wittily with nostalgic yearnings for the past. The movie pays excellent homage to the original, but spreads its distinctive version of joy in a highly innovative way. Its optimism is tunefully catching, and Emily Blunt does all that is possible to spread it.

This is almost the perfect holiday movie for the whole family to enjoy. In this reviewer’s session, the audience burst into spontaneous clapping, as the movie finished and the credits rolled by.

Peter W. Sheehan is Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting

Walt Disney Studios

Released January 1, 2018