Director: Rob Marshall
Starring: Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ben Whishaw, Emily Mortimer, Colin Firth, Meryl Streep, Julie Walters, Pixie Davies, Nathanael Saleh, Joel Dawson
Written by: (also screen story) David Magee, (screen story) Rob Marshall, John DeLuca and (based upon the “Mary Poppins” stories) P.L. Travers
Running Time: 130 mins
Release date: 21st December 2018
It’s been 54 years since the release of Mary Poppins starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke, with his cockerney accent. It holds a special place in the hearts of those who saw it or have seen it since, so a new story with a new cast could be a risky thing to produce. Thankfully, director Rob Marshall and his team have enough love and affection for the original movie that as soon as it starts, you feel completely at ease.
Michael Banks is in a mess. With his wife no longer with him, three children to look after and a house that is on the verge of repossession, he doesn’t know where to turn. Then a familiar face appears in the form of nanny Mary Poppins, who says she has come to help the Banks children. And so a new world of adventures are ahead for the children, Jack the lamplighter and for Michael and Jane, the children all grown up.
The first thing you have to understand is that this isn’t a remake but a continuation of the original story, several years later. Marshall and his team have studied the 1964 movie and recreate everything we know and love, from Cherry Tree Lane and the familiar streets and parks, as well as the decision to use cell animation instead of CGI for the fantasy sequences, when Mary, Jack and the children end up in an old-time music hall (including the reappearance of the penguins).
The songs also have an air of the original, all of them having the energy and sense of fun that the Sherman Brothers gave us all those years ago. There’s even a familiar feel to some of the numbers. The spectacular Light Fantastic has an air of Step In Time in it, especially the dance routine, no longer performed by chimney sweeps but street lamplighters. At the same time, there are numbers that stand out, particularly A Cover Is Not A Book, set in the animated world and utilising the talents of its cast to full.
Of course, there will be some who will feel the story isn’t as strong as the original, with a tale of a family in crisis due to a bad monetary decision but this seems to be more than a nod to modern times. This is maybe a small quibble in a film brimming with fun and energy that it can be forgiven.
The cast is magnificent. Ben Whishaw and Emily Mortimer slip into the roles of Michael and Jane with ease. Whishaw particularly is strong with a number that will cause the tears to the role. Colin Firth seems to be having plenty of fun as the evil banker and the children aren’t as annoying as most big-screen musicals. A couple of nicely placed cameos bring neat surprises, although the weakest number in the film has Meryl Streep as a woman living in a topsy-turvy world.
The real strength of the film lies in the hands of the two leads. Taking on a similar role to that of Dick Van Dyke, Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda is fun as Jack. With his mildly improved Cockney accent, he sparkles in the big musical numbers and really shines with his patter during the book song. Questions may be asked as to why a true Londerer wasn’t cast but this didn’t bother me and just added to the enjoyment of the film.
Taking on the iconic role of Mary must have been daunting for any actress but Emily Blunt plays her with snooty aplomb. Heading to the original books for inspiration, this is a vainer Mary who knows she is right and everyone knows it. Yet at the same time, Blunt brings a child-like glint and she copes with the musical numbers brilliantly. It has been a triumphant year for Miss Blunt, with A Quiet Place and now this. Her star has never shined so brightly.
Mary Poppins Returns is an unadulterated joy. It’s the kind of film that doesn’t get made anymore. Big scale musical numbers with loads of imagination and magic. In a time when we are worried about what the future holds, we couldn’t have asked for a better way to bring happiness back into our lives. Go see Mary Poppins Returns and come out with a song in your heart and spring in your step.