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‘Mary Poppins Returns’ (review by Kristen Halbert)

Produced by Rob Marshall,
John DeLuca, Marc Platt

Screenplay by David Magee,
Rob Marshall, John DeLuca

Based on Mary Poppins by P. L. Travers
Directed by Rob Marshall
Starring Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda,
Ben Whishaw, Emily Mortimer,
Julie Walters, Colin Firth, Meryl Streep

 

54 years after her first parasol-enabled flight into our hearts, everyone’s favorite British nanny is back again to tend to multiple generations of Banks children in Mary Poppins Returns, directed by Rob Marshall.

While the sugar and songs are still there, this new version lacks some of the easy charm and wholesome sweetness of the original.

Yet even with these shortcomings, Mary Poppins still remains a treat for any holiday family outing.

The movie is set 25 years after the original and opens to lamplighter Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda) singing “(Underneath the) Lovely London Sky”, stepping in for Dick Van Dyke’s chim-chimney sweeping Bert. The Cockney accent is there, but Miranda is more wide-eyed wonder than cheeky street worker. It plays a bit too broadly in most scenes, but the singing is always on point and you can tell he is having a ball. Conversely, Emily Blunt is much sharper than Mary Poppins of old.

Many times Poppins seems more exasperated than enchanted, but having to reteach the same family could do that to anyone.

Perhaps it is Blunt’s noticeably posher accent that tends towards a more straitlaced nanny, but when she lets her hair down, boy does she loosen up. While we know going into it that Blunt does not have the range of Julie Andrews, her spin on songs like the lightly bawdy “A Cover Is Not A Book” and singing growls in “The Royal Doulton Music Hall” show that the casting was a brilliant choice overall. She takes the iconic character and truly makes it her own without losing the essence of magic and manners that make Mary tick.

The story surrounds the possible loss of the house on Cherry Tree Lane by recently widowed Michael (a dreary Ben Whishaw), leaving his three children Annabel (Pixie Davies), John (Nathanael Saleh), and Georgie (Joel Dawson) to find a way to save their home and dad in the process. Michael’s sister Jane is along for the ride (a bubbly Emily Mortimer) but she suffers the same fate as the rest of the Banks clan: none of their characters are given enough time to actually sort out any of the feelings they are singing about. Michael is in an endless cycle of grieving that sucks the life out of every scene while the kids never seem to have an opportunity to mourn their mother or the imminent loss of their home. Jane is a labor organizer but we never see the rally and only have hints of her work with laborers thanks to a smitten Jack.

At least most of the cameos (such as Meryl Streep’s as the twisted aunt Topsy) are introduced, explained, and then closed out appropriately.

Many of the characters and moments of Mary Poppins Returns are send ups or homages to a directly correlating scene or song in the original. Because of this, it is hard to ever escape the towering shadow of one of the most lauded family musicals in history.

It is unfortunate that the many splendid individual elements — such as a trip into a piece of pottery with Blunt that combines live action and hand-drawn animation just as whimsically as Andrews’ jump into a sidewalk painting — do not add up to a more cohesive whole.

But with a spoonful of sugar (and let’s face it, a grain of salt), the songs, dances, and overall lessons of family bonding make childhood magic return to enchant another day.

 

 

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