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When I had first heard that they were making a sequel to Mary Poppins, I was quite opposed to it! Mary Poppins is my absolute favorite live-action Disney film and a cinema classic at that! It didn’t need a sequel!
But I mellowed toward the idea for one particular reason: this sequel was coming out during the current era we are in of Disney making live-action remakes of their animated films. As I’ve made very clearly multiple times in the past, I’m against those remakes, in principle, as I feel they disparage the medium of animation. So because this would be a live-action sequel to a live-action film rather than a live-action remake of an animated film, I opened my heart a bit to its existence.
The film would be directed by Rob Marshall who previously directed Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides and Into the Woods for Disney. While I wasn’t in love with either film, I had hope that maybe he could do something satisfactory with this remake. Did it turn out practically perfect in every way? Here’s my review of Mary Poppins Returns!
And remember, SPOILERS AHEAD!
The film takes place in the familiar locale of London during The Great Slump. The first character we meet is the jovial Bert-like lamplighter, Jack, played by Lin-Manuel Miranda. He starts off the musical film with a number called (Underneath the) Lovely London Sky providing a positive outlook to both his profession as well as the economic situation of London’s people.
After that, the opening credits roll against an artistic backdrop of scenes we’ll see later on in the film along with musical scores of songs we’ll hear later on in the film.
Once the credits end, we’re taken to that familiar house on Cherry Tree Lane from the first film, now owned by an adult Michael Banks, now played by Ben Whishaw. He’s doing his best to make ends meet what with the economic situation of the country as well as the loss of his wife the year prior. Thankfully, he has a good job as a banker where his father used to work and he has three young children to take care of.
John, Annabel, and Georgie Banks, played by Nathanael Saleh, Pixie Davies, and Joel Dawson, respectively, have learned to be somewhat independent due to their financial situation as well as the loss of their mother. Well, the elder two at least, Georgie not so much.
Michael still employs his old maid Ellen, now played by Julie Walters. And his elder sister, Jane Banks, now played by Emily Mortimer, visits the family often and provides emotional support to her brother, niece, and nephews.
This particular day though, Michael is informed that he must pay back a loan he took from a bank in a couple days otherwise he will lose his house. It’s a huge sum that he can’t afford to pay back, but because his father had shares in the bank, he could be saved. The only problem is he needs to find the share certificate proving this fact. He and Jane look all over the house for this document including the attic which prompts Michael into waxing mournfully about his late wife in a song called A Conversation.
Michael finds his and Jane’s old patched-up kite from the first film and throws it away as he’s lost all nostalgia to it. The kite then gets picked up by the wind and starts flying towards the park where the Banks children happen to be. Georgie sees the kite and runs after it trying to hold on. Jack is also there and helps Georgie get a hold of the kite. Then to everyone’s amazement, they see floating down from the sky above while clutching the kite is a woman with dress sense and an umbrella.
Yes, Mary Poppins has returned, this time played by Emily Blunt, and barely having aged at all since the first film.
She seems to know the Banks’ children’s names although they have no idea who she is. And she also knows Jack who is well-acquainted with her from when he was a child apprentice to Bert. She then leads the Banks children home and surprises Michael and Jane with her presence.
Michael and Jane are amazed to see Mary Poppins back again although they’ve convinced themselves that all their adventures they had with her when they were children were just figments of their imagination. Nevertheless, Mary Poppins convinces Michael to hire her as a nanny to his children and when I say “convinces”, I mean “pretty much hires herself” for the position.
Georgie is in boyish wonder of Mary Poppins and the cool things she can do like floating down from the sky as well as having an umbrella that talks. But the older John and Annabel aren’t so welcoming to Mary Poppins at first. It’s not until after Mary Poppins takes them for a magical underwater adventure in their bathtub via a song called Can You Imagine That? do they warm up to her.
Afterwards they tell their father about their adventure, but he gets cross with them for talking nonsense. But he apologizes afterwards and tells them about how he and their Aunt Jane are looking for this share certificate. The kids then help with the search. Georgie helps them clean up from the mess of paper they’ve left around the house and uses one of his father’s drawings to patch up the holes in the kite.
The next morning, Jane and Michael head to the bank to talk with William “Weatherall” Wilkins, played by Colin Firth. Mr. Wilkins is the president of the bank and the nephew of Mr. Dawes from the first film. Jane and Michael are hoping he may have it on record somewhere that Mr. Banks had shares in this bank. But after looking through his official ledger, Mr. Wilkins sadly discloses that no such record exists and that he hopes Michael and Jane can find the certificate. After they leave his office, he tosses a crumpled piece of paper into the wastebasket and we see the name of “Banks” on the top of the paper. Mr. Wilkins has been lying and wants to get Michael’s house any way he can!
That night, the kids are trying to come up with an idea as to how to save the house and the subject about selling a priceless porcelain bowl that once belonged to their mother comes up. This leads to the three of them fighting over the bowl and eventually chipping it. Not only has it been chipped, but the picture on the bowl of a carriage has altered to show that the wheel has been broken. Mary Poppins then uses her “magic” to transport her, the kids, and Jack (who was there talking to Mary Poppins at the time) into the bowl to help fix the carriage wheel and give us our animated segment.
The marriage between live action and animation in this scene is splendily seamless! The kids help fix the carriage and then take a carriage ride to the Royal Doulton Music Hall, a music hall where all the animals in this porcelain bowl world gather. The song, The Royal Doulton Music Hall, reminds me of the deleted song from the original film, Chimpanzoo.
When they arrive at the music hall, Mary Poppins and Jack perform a vaudeville-style song with surprisingly cheeky lyrics for a Disney film called A Cover is Not the Book.
After the performance though, the kids chase after a mean wolf who represents Wilkins trying to take their home from then in what is an odd action sequence that you wouldn’t expect to see in a Mary Poppins film.
But afterwards the kids “wake up” and realize that it’s all been a dream…or has it? Mary Poppins puts them all back to sleep with the Academy Award-nominated song, The Place Where Lost Things Go.
The next day, Mary Poppins and the children head to the bank to give Michael his briefcase which he has forgotten at home.
But before that, they stop at her cousin’s fix-it shop to have her fix the bowl that they’ve chipped. Her eccentric Eastern European cousin, Topsy played by…Meryl Streep…sigh…refuses to let them in though as it’s the second Wednesday.
You see, every second Wednesday, Topsy’s life turns upside down or “turns turtle” as she describes it in a song called Turning Turtle. Mary Poppins and the gang convince Topsy that this is good though because it gives her a unique perspective on things. This cheers Topsy up and she promises to fix the bowl. And we never see her or the bowl ever again!
Mary Poppins and the kids then head to the bank and while there, the kids overhear Mr. Wilkins talking about getting the Banks’ home. They then rush to tell their father this news while being chased by Mr. Wilkins. Michael doesn’t believe the children’s story, gets cross with them, and sends them home with Mary Poppins.
While walking dejectedly, they get lost in the fog and bump into Jack. He helps them get home along with his fellow leeries (aka lamplighters) via a well-choreographed musical number (and my favorite in the film) called Trip a Little Light Fantastic.
When they finally arrive home, Michael is upset that his children have returned home so late and then breaks down with the stress of almost losing his job, finding the share certificate, and the main reason of his worries: missing his late wife. The Banks children cheer him up with a reprise of The Place Where Lost Things Go and Michael realizes that he can always see his wife in his children.
The night soon arrives where the Banks have to vacate their house, but 7 minutes to midnight, Michael discovers that the piece of paper Georgie used to patch the kite with is the missing share certificate! Michael and Jane rush to the bank to give this to Mr. Wilkins while Mary Poppins, Jack, and the kids head to Big Ben to turn the hands back five minutes. They do this as Michael is supposed to have the share certificate to Mr. Wilkins before Big Ben chimes.
Fortunately the plan works and Michael and Jane meet Mr. Wilkins in time. However he doesn’t accept the share certificate as it’s been torn and the piece with the official signature is missing rendering it null and void. But the Banks are saved by a deus ex machina when in walks Mr. Dawes, Jr., played by Dick Van Dyke!
Apparently Mr. Wilkins has been lying about Mr. Dawes, Jr. losing his mental capacities and using that as an excuse to take over the bank. Mr. Dawes, Jr. dismisses Mr. Wilkins of his post and takes his place as head of the bank once again. He then gives Michael the good news that the tuppence he gave his father in the first film were put into the bank and after a few good investments have become a large sum of money, large enough to buy their house back!
Everyone is overjoyed and the next day, the Banks visit the neighboring Spring Fair. There a balloon lady, played by Angela Lansbury, sells balloons that cause certain people to float in the air depending on what they have inside of them. All of the kids and adults enjoy this in merriment while singing the final song of the film (not counting a reprise later), Nowhere to Go But Up.
The balloon lady seems to know Mary Poppins and they talk about how the adults will forget about this experience the day after. But the Banks are happy, Jane and Jack have a romance brewing, and it’s time for Mary Poppins to leave never to be seen again.
And that was Mary Poppins Returns. While it’s not practically perfect in every way, it’s a decent attempt of a sequel! It maintains the nostalgia and wholesomeness of the first film while being its own thing. The acting by all is extremely good from Blunt to Whishaw to Mortimer to Miranda and even to Streep, even though I’m still not happy about her being in this film. Emily Blunt’s Mary Poppins is very much like Julie Andrews’ Mary Poppins while very much unlike hers as well. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Jack is the best way to capture the essence of Dick Van Dyke’s Bert in the first film. It took me a while to get used to the kids, but they did try their best.
The songs are overall great and sound like Sherman Brothers’ songs, although they’re by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman (Catch Me If You Can, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). The animated sequence was a lot of fun and so refreshing to see!
Any complaints I can make are nitpicks at best. People can argue that this film is similar to Star Wars: The Force Awakens wherein the plot seems to parallel the original film to a tee. I personally don’t see it that way in terms of the plot, but I can definitely see it in terms of the songs (Lovely London Sky = Chim Chim Cher-ee, Can You Imagine That? = A Spoonful of Sugar, The Royal Doulton Music Hall = Chimpanzoo, A Cover is Not the Book = Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, The Place Where Lost Things Go = Stay Awake, Turning Turtle = I Love to Laugh, Trip a Little Light Fantastic = Step in Time, and Nowhere to Go But Up = Let’s Go Fly a Kite).
Other nitpicks are things like I wish they utilized Dick Van Dyke more or that it seems weird for the film to have a “villain” or that this film doesn’t quite hit the level of “masterpiece”, etc.
But despite those nitpicks, I rather enjoy this film. Trip a little light fantastic and see it if you haven’t already!
So, my final score for this film is 33/35 = 94.29% (A) !
The next review will be posted on June 11, 2019.