Life at Cherry Orchard lane is a chaotic one. Between burst water pipes, no breakfast for his three children and two strange men knocking at the door, Michael Banks’s life is a picture of endearing bedlam. However, when it is revealed that the men at the door have come to repossess the house, everything suddenly changes. Facing eviction and the certain loss of their childhood home, his family need a miracle. Unbeknownst to them one is set to re-appear, clutching a familiar travel bag and a flying umbrella…
…(has) a genuine sense of levity about it that will lift you across its rooftops.
Similar to the recent ‘Christopher Robin’, ‘Mary Poppins Returns’ is a movie that features a much beloved character returning to their childhood charge(s), who are now wrestling with adulthood. However, whereas Pooh Bear’s live action return was a technical triumph crippled by a dull plot and even blander dialogue, the same cannot be said here. Festooned on the original’s same surreal pretext and brightly coloured palette, ‘Mary Poppins Returns’ has a genuine sense of levity about it that will lift you across its rooftops. From its bunny-hopping bicyclists and to its cel-animated characters, this is a musical aimed at audiences, both familiar and unfamiliar with the famous original.
In terms of approach to the lead role, actress Emily Blunt wisely channels her own version of Mary Poppins. Curt and occasionally vain, her performance deftly sidesteps the inevitable comparisons with Julie Andrews, to emerge as a character that has both disapproving flashes of Miss Jean Brodie and the (eventual) glee of Nanny McPhee.
So, where this Mary Poppins is light on nods and winks to the original, that responsibility is unsurprisingly conferred upon Jack the lamplighter (as played by Lin-Manuel Miranda). A clear, song and dance professional, Miranda’s Jack endearingly jumps and twists through every song, sporting a sooty flat cap and a mercifully kinder Dick Van Dyke accent. Add to this an un-showy chorus of well-known British thespians, and a clear commitment to showing a wider spectrum of races onscreen and you have a sequel with its pearly-king heart in the right place.
That all said, after all its dances have been danced and its songs have been sung, there is the ultimate, unavoidable the reckoning with the original. Taken at face value, director Rob Marshall has delivered a solid, if un-supercalifragilistic sequel in ‘Mary Poppins Returns’. With its tone and timing feeling a little too familiar, it could be argued that this follow-up sticks a little too closely to the original. That said, any remake, re-imagining or prequel would be a tall order, given the Christmas-stapled legacy of the original and the ferocity with which author P L Travers guarded her creation (see the excellent ‘Mrs Banks’ for proof).
Seen through such a kaleidoscope of hope and expectation, this Mary Poppins is a sequel that will probably satisfy, if not surprise, her existing fans.