Nothing is impossible, says Mary Poppins herself in this week’s new release, Mary Poppins Returns, and she is as right as ever! What many deemed impossible to happen has happened, and it’s one of the most welcome Christmas presents of the year!
Picking up during the Great Depression, a fully-grown and widowed Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw, Paddington 2) is doing his best to keep his children satisfied and his home intact, the latter of which is under threat of repossession by the very bank he works for. Despite help from his sister, Jane (Emily Mortimer, Lars and the Real Girl) and the erstwhile domestic, Ellen (Julie Walters, Billy Elliot), he’s barely holding it together until a sudden change in the wind brings none other than Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt, Into The Woods) back to scenic 17 Cherry Tree Lane. With help from Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda, In The Heights), a lamplighter (who apprenticed under Bert!), the Banks children, young and old, must relearn the beauty in life and the wisdom of having fun!
“Beautiful” is a word oft-overused in movie reviews, especially mine, and yet, it’s totally appropriate here; there isn’t a single movie this Christmas season as beautiful as Poppins, and it’s so lovingly crafted, with a briskly-paced script, sound direction by Rob Marshall (Chicago) and a host of new songs co-authored by Marc Shaiman (Sister Act) and Scott Whitman — to say nothing of its loving nods to the film which preceded it, with input from Richard Sherman and Tony Walton, among others’ influence. The standout moment has to be the hand-drawn animated musical number, which sees Poppins and her charge making a journey akin to “Jolly Holiday” in the first film — gloriously drawn digitally by a team of animators led by immortals Ken Duncan and James Baxter, this makes the case for Disney themselves to return to hand-drawn animation ASAP.
Our cast is in fine a form as I’ve ever seen them, with Ms. Blunt stepping into the shoes of Dame Julie Andrews with ease and care, and her work on Into The Woods doubtlessly helped in gaining her singing voice. Mr. Miranda is charming as can be as Jack; a true heir apparent to Dick Van Dyke’s work preceding — to say nothing of his much better Cockney accent! Mr. Whishaw, however, is in as great a form as I’ve seen him, showing a tender soul broken by loss, and what a singing voice!
Additional cast members unmentioned before now include Meryl Streep (The Devil Wears Prada), hilarious but not suffocating to us, nor chewing scenery — Colin Firth (The King’s Speech) as the villain of the story, William Weatherall Wilkins, plus a few loving cameos from Disney’s history. The real MVPs here are doubtless the Banks children, each one a young natural at their craft, with so much to offer in their career ahead.
Joyous though the picture is, the cast and script never stoop to the saccharine caricature of other movie musicals (I’m looking at you, The Greatest Showman), and rather honors the ghosts of Broadway long past — the generation that grew up on My Fair Lady, Camelot and The Music Man will find so much to love in this film, as will their children! You just don’t get movies like Mary Poppins Returns as much as we used to, and more’s the pity, as it’s a joyous reminder of what motion pictures used to be and can be if we try once again! Truly one of the best pictures of the year, its longevity will be tantamount to its source!
Rating: Practically Perfect in Every Way