Mary Poppins Returns (aka Mary Poppins 2) review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
As Disney continues to dig up its many properties for 21st-century remakes, Mary Poppins Returns is a little more refreshing as both a nostalgic retread and a direct sequel to the over-50-year-old Disney classic. There are new songs but they’re the same tone of gentle magic and topsy-turvy fun. There are new worlds to explore but with similar traits of cartoon penguins and warping of gravity. Adults have been on this ride before but it’s still a pleasing enough dose of great song and dance that it offers a charming return to form for the always-proper Poppins.
Emily Blunt now takes on the role and she’s just as perfect in every way as when Julie Andrews once inhabited the role of the magical nanny from P.L. Travers’ books. She floats down from the heavens once more to come to the aid of the Banks family. This time, however, the Banks kids of Michael and Jane have grown into adults played by Ben Whishaw and Emily Mortimer. Michael is now a bank teller and single dad, trying to raise his two sons and one daughter as best as a struggling dad can on his own. He has a housekeeper, played by a powerful Julie Walters, but even she can only do so much when the bank is threatening to evict their home. Jane also offers assistance but it's not enough.
Coming to pick up the slack is Poppins, along with her newest and biggest fan of Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda), a cockney lamplighter and former protoge of chimneysweep Bert. While the adults struggle to find an economic means of saving the house, Poppins gives the kids her standard package of learning manners and enhancing the imagination. Once more acting oblivious to her actions, she takes a simple bath and makes it an eye-popping journey through a sea of underwater people and graceful dolphins. The chipping of a fragile and painted vase soon turns into a trip to the circus where the lovely Mary is convinced to get up on stage and strut her stuff with Jack giving the expected backup singing and dancing, as only Lin-Manuel can do so well.
There’s a plot present but its almost secondary to the more decadent musical set pieces. Colin Firth plays the evil bank president that not only wants to fire Michael but evict him from his home and keep his shares in the company. Meryl Streep pops up to sing and dance in a number of a home literally being turned upside down. Dick Van Dyke plays the role once more of Mr. Dawes, looking more the part than ever as an old man who can still dance up a storm but may need a little help getting his feet off the desk he dances on. Even Angela Lansbury gets a wonderful closing bit as a balloon lady with a wonderful song to sing. After all these years, having grown up with hearing her in sing in Beauty & The Beast, she still has the gentle warmth to her vocals.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Walt Disney Studio has served up a first-rate production fantasy, merging fluid 2D animation with unique computer-generated worlds and effects. And they are as delightful as the music by Marc Shaiman, which serves to be more faithful to the score than the songs of the original. Even with a rousing set piece of a legion of lamplighters dimming the biggest light in London, Mary Poppins Returns slips a little too comfortably into the familiar motions of the Banks family in desperate times with a happy ending waiting for them. Knowing that, however, I still enjoyed the picture for what is as a sequel that returns after decades more as another round of charm than a brilliantly new idea.