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‘Mary Poppins Returns’ (review by Sharon Knolle)

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

Mary Poppins Returns is a sheer delight: A loving homage to the original film that’s arguably even better than the 1964 film, which was overseen by Walt Disney himself. It’s a bubbly, frothy smile-inducing treat that I can’t recommend enough.

The spirit of Walt Disney is in every frame of the new movie and by that I mean the deep joy, wonder and love of the incredible that his best movies embodied.

If you don’t leave the theater with an enormous smile on your face, then we are very different species.

The new film hews closely to the original: Emily Blunt is practically perfect in every way as Mary Poppins. Her magical nanny is perhaps a tad vainer than I recall Julie Andrews was, but it doesn’t in any way diminish our love for the character, who has the same above-it-all manner that belies her secret love of breaking the rules and having fun.

She returns to Number 17 Cherry Tree Lane to help out a grown-up Michael and Jane Banks, the children in the 1960s film. Now played by Ben Whishaw and Emily Mortimer, they’re in danger of losing their family home and in desperate straits.

Lin-Manuel Miranda is the cheery lamplighter who’s always handy when Mary or the children need a hand. It’s a great showcase for the Tony-winning Miranda. Most of us weren’t lucky enough to see him in Hamilton, but he and his fellow lamplighters put on a damn fine show. (That’s sure to be a stage musical of its own.)

Dick Van Dyke’s singing and dancing chimney sweep was my favorite part of the original and the lamplighter scenes here are just as joyous. If Miranda’s Cockney accent is also not quite accurate, well, that’s hardly a dealbreaker.

The whole film works along those lines of nostalgic emulation, borrowing the things we loved most about the original film and putting a new spin on them. It never feels like a a shadow or a copy, but more like a celebration and a continuance.

If anything, Mary Poppins Returns is a deeper felt film than Mary Poppins because more is at stake. Michael’s a widower with three children to care for and his hopeless heartbreak can’t help but spill over to the audience. Michael doesn’t have that stiff upper lip his rather stuffy father had in the first film, but he does (like his father) have to learn to let go and remember what matters most. If it’s the same lesson grown-up Christopher Robin (Ewan McGregor) learns in another Disney film this year, that’s not a dealbreaker either. (Honestly, I’m not usually this sentimental. I’m a terrible cynical. Truly.)

Like all the items in Mary Poppins’ bottomless bag, the cast and crew have come together in the most delightful way.

Rob Marshall’s Oscar-winning musical Chicago felt more like a series of scenes rather than a coherent film, but for his direction here, I have no complaints. Also none for screenwriter David Magee, who, despite being a Yankee, penned the lovely and underrated Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day and was Oscar-nominated for Finding Neverland.

The music by Marc Shaiman, who won Best Musical and Best Original Score Tonys for the stage version of Hairspray, has several callbacks to the Oscar-winning 1964 score by the Sherman Brothers.

Truth be told, none of the new songs are as memorable as the Oscar-winning “Chim Chim Cher-ee,” or “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” or “A Spoonful of Sugar.” But there’s also nothing as dreary as “Feed the Birds” either. (Apologies to the Sherman Brothers, who also wrote the songs to my favorite Disney film 1967’s The Jungle Book.) But the songs are lovely in their own right, including the opening and concluding song sung by Miranda “Lovely London Sky.”

There are animated sequences that also recall classic Disney movies, a sequence with Meryl Streep (doing a very broad Russian accent) that recalls the “I Love to Laugh” tea party on the ceiling of the first film, and a happy ending that involves the cameos of two classic Disney actors. (You probably know who they are, but I won’t spoil them here. Except to say that I loved them both.)

What can I say? Much like the glorious Paddington 2, this is one of the most enjoyable movies of the year. And hey, it’s got Paddington himself (Ben Whishaw), who has a wonderful singing voice as it turns out.

Also, all the love for the opening credits, which, per the credits, are an homage to classic Disney illustrator Peter Ellenshaw.

Mary Poppins Returns is a film for Disney fans, Anglophiles, theater buffs, and anyone who needs a jolly holiday.

Rating: 5 out of 5

 

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