Mary Poppins Returns (review)

Emily Blunt shines as Mary

When Disney released news in 2017 that they would be making another Mary Poppins film, every Disney fan tensed up.  It’s one thing to make a live action movie of Sleeping Beauty, where Maleficent is the main character, or maybe a live action Winnie the Pooh film (which turned out to be a good thing), but Mary Poppins is sacred.  The practically perfect umbrella wielding nanny is a Disney property on the level with the Haunted Mansion, Mickey Mouse or The Little Mermaid… if you mess with it, you’d better get it right.  There’s a lot to be lost here.

A friend of mine declared herself a “Mary Poppins Purist”, so it’s an attitude of “Ok, Disney, I’d rather you not do this… but if you have to, then do it right.”

Well, rest assured, purists, fans and Poppinites, Disney has done it right.

The film opens up with Jack, played with Lin-Manuel Miranda, who through the entire movie just seems like he’s having the time of his life, blown away by being part of such a film… and let’s be real, we’d all be that way.  His tune, “(Underneath the) Lovely London Sky” is charming, melodic and perfect to get this thing started.

We meet the now-grown Banks children, Michael (now Ben Whishaw) and Jane (Emily Mortimer, who you’ll know from things).  Michael’s wife has passed, a heart tugging tragedy that affects the rest of the film.  Michael has learned that unless they come up with a certain sum of money, they will lose the home he and his three kids — Anabel, John, and little Georgie — reside in.  Jane, still single, is there to offer help and encouragement.

Enter Mary Poppins (played by Emily Blunt — more on her in a minute), who has come to assist the Banks children (“Us?” Anabel asks, to which Mary says, “Oh yes, you too.”), and from there, the movie takes off in a big way.

Lots of singing, lots of dancing, a little drama, a few tears and we end up in the final homestretch, never in any doubt that the day would be saved… its really a matter of how, not if. This is a Mary Poppins film, of course, we can’t end with the Banks family living on the streets. The villain isn’t revealed until a bit into the movie, and though you can guess it early on, I won’t tell you. If you’ve ever met my wife, The Lovely Steph Leann, then you may guess if I tell you that she was slightly miffed at who the villain was. “I don’t want ___ to be the bad guy!”  And you may recognize Julie Walters… or Mrs Weasley… in there too!

Rob Marshall directs, who’s previous directing credits include the phenomenal 2002 update of “Chicago”, as well as Disney’s “Into the Woods” (an underrated film, in my opinion) — of course, he also did “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides”, so they can’t all be winners. Which one was that? I don’t remember. Neither do you, let’s be honest, so let’s just move past this.

Marshall leads the troop, but it’s almost like he just let Miranda and Emily Blunt do their thing and the film is better for it. Lin-Manuel Miranda, known as the Hamilton guy, is finally being given a chance to shine for the rest of the country who can’t get Hamilton tickets, and Emily Blunt is just a vision.  Blunt is in my personal Top Ten Actresses that I’ll watch in anything, and she embraces the role of Poppins with reverence and the respect it deserves… her performance is indicative of the whole film — it’s not a reboot, it’s not a remake, it’s a continuation of the story, and in interviews and press leading up to the film’s released, you can tell she knows she’s walking amongst giants.  And she pulls it off… I loved her in this, and after “Sicario”, “A Quiet Place”, “Edge of Tomorrow” and “The Muppets”, I’m pretty convinced she can do anything. Okay, yes, she was in “Sherlock Gnomes”, but as I’ll never see that, I don’t think about it.

The music is also stellar. I have no idea how many of the songs, if any, will be as relevant as the original Mary Poppins tunes are — “Spoonful of Sugar” and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” are songs that are buried in our consciousness forever, but they’ve also had 50 years to get there. “Mary Poppins Returns” songs have had what, 10 days?  There are some similarities in the two movies — where as Mary Poppins sings “Tuppence a Bag” to the children the, she sings “The Place Where Lost Things Go” (of which the second time its song, by the children, to the dad who is lamenting the loss of his wife… man, the audience was sniffling and nearly sobbing), and while the original gives us “Let’s Go Fly a Kite”, the comparison to that would be the ending tune “Nowhere to Go But Up”, led by a surprise cameo… if you have the soundtrack or pay attention to movie casts like I do, you know who it is, but if you don’t know, I’m not going to spoil it!

It’s unclear exactly what a lamplighter does — he climbs a ladder, polishes a 2 inch area, and leaves… it’s a little strange

My favorite song is “Can You Imagine That”, brilliantly performed by Emily Blunt, as its clever, funny, and fun to sing along with, but “El Royal Doulton Music Hall” is also quick and great and truthfully, they are all great (okay, the turtle song is a big much, but that’s later). Marc Shaiman wrote all the songs for the movie, and while Shaiman has done some various things, this is truly his big break — and he’s up to the task. I hope to see him up for an Oscar or two.

Bert and Chimneysweeps went bonkers in “Step in Time”, here Jack and the Lamplighters do their own Step in Time with a song called “Trip the Light Fantastic”. I mean, it’s not Dick Van Dyke, but let’s be real, who is.

By the way, when Dick Van Dyke entered the movie,  our theater audience gasped (in a good way) and when he jumped on that desk and danced, there were claps and cheers.  Deservedly so, as he’s what, 146 years old and still kicking it?  It’s a brief appearance, but it’s a perfect resolution to the movie.

Is the movie practically perfect? No. I did have a few problems with it… the ending with Big Ben was a little much… it left me with a “Why didn’t they just fly the Eagles into Mordor” feeling (Lord of the Rings, anyone?), but that’s a small thing.  A little bigger was the Meryl Streep sequence. First, does she have to be in everything?  Her tune, called “Turning Turtle”, was fine, it’s a fun song, but the whole scene was completely unnecessary, and in a great soundtrack, is my least favorite song on the album. The purpose for her scene isn’t even that important and never comes up again later. Perhaps Director Marshall just wanted her to be a part of it, or perhaps Streep herself wanted in, who knows, I just thought it wasn’t needed.

Someone asked me “Is it too scary for young kids?” and that’s hard to answer, as all kids are different.  What might scare an 8 year old may be funny to a 4 year old, but if pressed, I’d have to say “No”.  There is a sequence where Georgie is kidnapped by an animated wolf, and the other children give chase, through a ceramic bowl (not a typo, thus the magic of Poppins), so that might be a little tense, and there are one or two slower parts that adults will enjoy but kids might find boring, but as a whole, the kids would love it.

Will YOU as an adult love it?  Did you love Mary Poppins?  Then yes, I think if you’ll allow yourself to consider another Poppins story, you’ll like it. If you didn’t like Mary Poppins, or refuse to admit that more Poppins might actually be okay, then nah, you may not like this at all.

Suffice to say, I loved it, and as someone who literally saw 177 new-to-me movies (including at least 50 in theaters) this is in my Top Ten of the year.  Loved it.